SLAC public Lecture Series
From Atoms to Animals: The Vital Force in Biology
Perhaps the most significant event in intellectual history has occurred over the past several decades, a convergence of the sciences, a blurring of the distinctions between disciplines, from physics to chemistry to biology. Fundamental questions about human existence have been answered in chemical terms. What brings matter to life? What are our origins? What is the basis of cognitive activity? These and related questions have been a fertile area for philosophy and nonscientific analysis. The long history of such alternative approaches persists to this day.
Life chemistry is explained by protein catalysts, in their simplest form known as enzymes, and in their full complexity, referred to as molecular machines. An example of great significance is the so-called transcription machinery, which reads out the genetic code, to direct the formation and function of all living things. The atomic structure of the transcription machinery was determined at Stanford, with the use of intense X-ray beams and facilities at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory at SLAC. The result is an image of this complex machinery in action, bringing genetic information to life.