Biographies of a few figures in a paper I’m going to read bottom-to-top: “Contrasting theories of life: Historical context, current theories. In search of an ideal theory”
Some of the authors whose ideas we have discussed are sufficiently well known not to need much introduction, but most of the others are not. In this Appendix, therefore, we offer some biographical notes.
7.1. Aristotle (384–322 BC)
Aristotle (᾿Αριστοτέλης) was a Greek philosopher, born in Stagira, east of Salonica, and died in Euboea. He attended Plato’s Academy in Athens, but after Plato’s death he was the tutor of the young Alexander the Great. He contributed to many subjects, and is sometimes regarded as the world’s first biologist. His classification of causes (not a good translation of ἀιτία) formed part of his writings on physics.
7.2. Julien de La Mettrie (1709–1751)
Julien Jean Offray de La Mettrie was born in Saint-Malo. He studied theology and planned to enter the Church, but switched to medicine. His views on the soul, together with his hedonistic attitude to life and the importance of pleasure, created scandals, first in France and then in the more tolerant society of The Netherlands. After his death in 1751 in Prussia, Frederick the Great said in his eulogy, “All those who are not imposed upon by the insults of the theologians mourn in La Mettrie a good man and a wise physician.” More information is given by Chisholm (1911).
7.3. Aleksandr Butlerov (1828–1866)
Aleksandr Mikhailovich Butlerov was a Russian chemist who was born and died in the region of Kazan, where his family were landowners. His views on chemical bonding and the way to represent chemical structures, extending the work of Friedrich August Kekulé and including double bonds, are at the basis of modern practices (Leicester, 1959; Rocke, 1981), though he was writing long before the development of quantum mechanics. His reputation in Russia is very high, on the basis of this work on chemical structure, but he is remembered elsewhere mainly for his discovery of the formose reaction, which Juli Peretó (2016) has reviewed.
7.4. Stéphane Leduc (1853–1939)
Stéphane Armand Nicolas Leduc was Professor in the School of Medicine of Nantes, and was one of the first in France to use radiotherapy in the treatment of cancer (Drouin et al., 2014). He devoted his research career to the effect of osmosis on the growth of inorganic crystals, which he believed shed light on the formation of superficially similar structures in the growth of living cells, plants and fungi. His ideas were not well received in his lifetime, but they are enjoying a revival in the work of Barge et al. (2011). Juli Peretó (2016) has reviewed his work, together with that of other contemporary scientists.
7.5. D’Arcy Thompson (1860–1948)
D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson was Professor of Biology at the University of Dundee for 64 years, from 1884. He held the Chair of Natural History at St Andrews University from 1917. He emphasized the importance of allometry and purely physical considerations in determining the forms of living organisms. He set out his ideas in detail in his book On Growth and Form. He was unfortunate in that both editions were published during wartime (1917 and 1945), which doubtless decreased the impact of the book.
7.6. Alfonso Herrera (1868–1943)
Alfonso Luis Herrera López was a Mexican biologist known in particular for his theory of plasmogeny for the origin of life, concerned with the origin of protoplasm. He was the author of several books, including Nociones de Biología, and participated in the creation of various important institutions in Mexico, such as the Chapultepec Zoo, precursor of the Institute of Biology of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Juli Peretó (2016) has reviewed his work, together with that of other contemporary scientists.
7.7. John Burke (1873–1946)
John Benjamin Butler Burke was an English physicist who studied at Trinity College Dublin and Trinity College, Cambridge. He worked under the supervision of J. J. Thomson at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, and also in Birmingham and Manchester. He was especially concerned with artificial cells and the possibility that life could arise from non-living matter. Juli Peretó (2016) has reviewed his work, together with that of other contemporary scientists.
7.8. Erwin Schrödinger (1887–1961)
Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger was an Austrian physicist, who was born and died in Vienna. His introduction of wave mechanics led to the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1933. After the Anschluß, the forced union of Austria and Germany, he moved to the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies in Ireland, where he gave the lecture course that led to his book What is Life?. He returned to Austria in 1951. Keith Laidler (1993, pp. 336–337) and Walter Gratzer (2002, pp. 191–194) have given short accounts of his life and character, and Walter Moore (1989) has written a full biography.
7.9. Boris Belousov (1893–1976)
Boris Pavlovich Belousov was a Russian chemist, born in Moscow. He studied in Zürich after being forced to leave Russia, having been arrested at the age of 12 for participating in revolutionary activities. He returned to Russia in 1914 but could not enter the army for health reasons. During the Second World War he was a military chemist and worked on remedies for burn injuries, and later on protection against radiation injuries. Afterwards he studied the tricarboxylate cycle, and wrote that the “peculiar behaviour of citric acid in relation to some oxidants lies at the foundation of the periodic reaction.” He died in 1976, too soon to know of the posthumous award of the Lenin Prize in 1980. Arthur Winfree (1984) has given some background information on the Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction.
7.10. Alexander Oparin (1894–1980)
Alexander Ivanovich Oparin was born in Uglich, Russia, north of Moscow. He studied the biochemistry of material processing by plants and enzyme reactions in plant cells, and developed the foundations for industrial biochemistry in the USSR. He originated the theory that life began in a “primordial soup”. He was a supporter of Lysenko, not only during the lifetime of Stalin, but afterwards, at least until 1955. Outside Russia he is mainly remembered today for his theoretical work on the origin of life. Juli Peretó (2016) has reviewed his work, together with that of other contemporary scientists.
7.11. Zacharias Dische (1895–1988)
Dische was born in Sambir (now in Ukraine, then in Austria-Hungary) to a merchant family. He studied at the Universities of Lvov (now Lviv) and Vienna. After the Anschluß he fled to France, and later to the USA. While a refugee in Marseilles he pursued his main research interest on carbohydrate metabolism, and discovered feedback inhibition, a discovery usually thought to have been made more than a decade later. Information about his life can be found in the Memorial Book Dedicated to the Victims of National Socialism at the University of Vienna 1938:
7.12. Henrik Kacser (1918–1995)
Kacser was born in Câmpina (Rumania) of Austro-Hungarian parents. He was educated in Northern Ireland, and spent most of his career in Edinburgh. Trained as a chemist, he regarded himself as a geneticist, but his greatest influence was in biochemistry. He was one of the principal founders of the modern biology of systems, and was the first to argue that the only way to understand whole systems is to study whole systems. He remained active and the undisputed leader of his field until his sudden death in 1995. More information about his life and work can be found in the obituary by David Fell (1996).
7.13. Freeman Dyson (born 1923)
Freeman John Dyson is an American physicist and mathematician. He was born in Berkshire, England, and is known for many different contributions, with wide interests that include the origin of life. He was educated at Cambridge University and Cornell, and is currently professor emeritus at Princeton. He has been accused of being a denier of global warning, but his views (Dyson, 1977) are more subtle than that: he accepts that global warming is occurring, but he rejects the projections of its extent into the future.
7.14. Manfred Eigen (1927–2019)
Eigen was a German biophysicist, best known for his invention of the temperature-jump method for studying the kinetics of fast reactions with time constants of the order of microseconds. For this work he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1967. He was born in Bochum, Germany, and served as a teenager in an anti-aircraft unit during the Second World War. He was captured near Salzburg by American forces on the last day of the war, but he escaped from the camp where he was held, and walked to Göttingen (a distance of hundreds of kilometres). There he obtained his Ph.D., and later became director of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen. The obituary by Georgina Ferry (2019) gives a good account of his life.
7.15. Humberto Maturana (born 1928)
Humberto Maturana Romesín is a Chilean neuroscientist and philosopher. He was born in Santiago, studied first medicine and then biology at the University of Chile, and obtained his doctorate at Harvard. His work spans a broad range, encompassing concepts like cognition, autopoiesis, language, cybernetics and structurally determined systems. Of these, he has been associated in particular with cognition, especially vision. His students have included Francisco Varela, with whom he elaborated the theory of autopoiesis, and Juan-Carlos Letelier.
7.16. Tibor Gánti (1933–2009)
Gánti was a chemical engineer who spent his whole life in Hungary (and published almost all of his work in Hungarian). He taught industrial biochemistry and theoretical biology at Eötvös Loránd University and other universities in Hungary, after working first as head of the yeast laboratory of the Yeast Factory of Budapest. He remained closely in touch with industrial chemistry after his academic functions began, because he continued working in the Factory of Industrial Chemicals of Budapest. His aim in developing the chemoton model was to arrive at a minimum definition of life. Eörs Szathmáry (2015) has provided a useful summary of his life and work.
7.17. Robert Rosen (1934–1998)
Rosen was born in New York, and made his career first at the State University of New York in Buffalo and later at Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia. He studied with Nicolas Rashevsky at Chicago, and regarded his work as an extension of Rashevsky’s relational biology, in which the relations between entities, that is to say their organization, are more fundamental than the entities themselves. His posthumous reminiscences (Rosen, 2006) provide much additional information, as does the hagiographic account by Mikulecky (2001), and papers of Richardson and Louie (2007, Appendix) and Witten (2007).
7.18. Anatol Zhabotinsky (1938–2008)
Anatol Markovich Zhabotinsky was born in Moscow and died in Boston. Although he had intended to study rhythmic behaviour in glucose metabolism, he was assigned to work on the Belousov reaction by his professor, Simon Shnol. He placed this reaction on a firmer experimental basis, but although Belousov approved of his work they were never to meet. He was not permitted to leave the USSR until 1991, but in that year he moved to the USA, and became an Adjunct Professor at Brandeis University. Arthur Winfree (1984) has given some background information on the Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction.
7.19. Stuart Kauffman (born 1939)
Stuart Alan Kauffman is an American theoretical biologist with a particular interest in complex systems and the origin of life. He was a Marshall Scholar at the University of Oxford, from where he obtained his BA. Afterwards he studied medicine at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco. He has worked in several different university departments and at the Santa Fe Institute.
7.20. Peter Schuster (born 1941)
Peter Schuster is an Austrian biophysicist. He was born and educated in Vienna, and after postdoctoral work in Göttingen with Manfred Eigen he returned to Vienna, where he has made his career. In addition to the work on the hypercycle that we discuss here, he is very well known for his work on viruses and their replication. He is President of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.
7.21. Francisco Varela (1946–2001)
Francisco Javier Varela García was a Chilean neuroscientist and philosopher. He was born and educated in Santiago, and at the University of Chile he took courses alongside one of the authors of this review. He obtained his doctorate at Harvard, and after his return to Chile, he worked with Humberto Maturana. Together they developed the theory of autopoiesis. He spent much of his career outside Chile, in the USA during the period of the military dictatorship, and in France for the last part of his life. In the later part of his life he became interested in Tibetan Buddhism and participated in dialogues with the Dalai Lama.