Nano Comes to Life, book review: Small steps towards a giant leap


Nano Comes to Existence: How Nanotechnology Is Reworking Medicine and the Long term of Biology • By Sonia Contera • Princeton University Press • 216 webpages • ISBN: 978–691-16880-7 • $24.ninety five / £22

I experienced just about overlooked about nanotechnology soon after a flurry of protection and dialogue circa 2007-2008, it seemed to have returned to the realm of ‘crackpot ideas’ that may bear fruit ‘someday’. This was particularly true because some of the persons who ended up most eagerly fascinated in nanotechnology at that time ended up cryonicists who, as a single of the organisers of the 2007 convention on liable nanotechnology put it, “observed it as a way of curing their complete-human body frostbite”.

So for a even though, scientists eager to keep away from stigma labored on ‘molecular manufacturing’ instead than ‘nanotechnology’. This, even though the first thought of getting capable to immediately manipulate atoms arrived from a 1959 lecture by Richard Feynman, who went on to acquire the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics.

No a single is proposing that nanotechnology can revive cryonically preserved humans. Nevertheless, at the rear of the scenes nanotechnology has remained of curiosity to biologists and healthcare scientists, as Sonia Contera, a biological physicist at Oxford, describes in Nano Comes to Existence. What appears new to us — the involvement of physicists in biology — basically is not. Physicists, she advised a latest assembly of the London Futurists, “have generally been concerned in biology and medicine”.

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“A single explanation I wrote this book is that most publications about nanotechnology are not composed by women, or scientists, or functioning-course women from Spain…” Contera advised the Futurists.

In Nano Comes to Existence, Contera provides a history of how we believe about organisms, followed by an define of latest do the job and nanotechnology’s real assure. For considerably of the past century or two, organisms ended up seen as equipment, as scientists discovered the sections of cells and designed some knowing of how biological and chemical processes labored. We stored imagining that this tactic was bringing us close to knowing the thriller of everyday living by itself — 1st when Watson, Crick, and Franklin founded the framework of DNA, and then once more when, in the nineteen eighties, the Human Genome Challenge decoded it gene by gene.

A new era?

By now, we ended up intended to be in a new era of personalised medicine and cures for intractable ailments. Instead, Contera writes, the reductionist see of biology leaves the real mysteries unsolved. Mapping the genome was not ample. Then we considered genomics and proteomics would bring answers. Now, individuals are not ample, and a new considered is happening: perhaps everyday living just isn’t a purely biochemical established of processes — “an algorithm composed in genes”. Even large facts and mathematical styles don’t assistance: they typically, Contera writes, “do not get into account the physical truth of the mobile”. In typical, this tactic ignores emergence — the thought that “in everyday living ‘the complete is extra than the sum of the parts’.” 

The long term laid out by Contera is a single of multidisciplinary collaboration that, this time, may at last produce the lengthy-held desire of considerably greater cures and extra personalised medicine. This would be based on mechanistic styles at all a few biological scales — nano (DNA and proteins), micro (cells and microbes), and macro (tissues and organs) — and their interactions. Reading through this book is a single of individuals moments when, you believe, for purely self-fascinated motives, “I hope I reside lengthy ample to see this.”

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