Where does life truly begin? How do we understand the fundamental nature of what is “alive” and what is “not alive”? In this episode of Bio Eats World, Professor Jeremy England discusses his new book, Every Life is on Fire, all about how what we might use physics to understand to be the origins of life—and how we define what being alive is.
As biologists, we are taught that life evolved as the result of Darwinian natural selection. But what happens if instead, you use a physicist’s lens to examine what life looks to be—and define it as a specialized order and relationship between matter and the patterns of it’s an environment? England—a senior director in artificial intelligence at GlaxoSmithKline, principal research scientist at Georgia Tech, former associate professor of physics at MIT, and one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30 Rising Stars of Science”—describes this new idea as “dissapative adaptation”. The conversation covers how looking at “life” in these terms changes what we understand to be alive and what the nature of “life” is; sheds new light on the “queasy middle ground” between those definitions, especially in areas like machine learning and AI; and allows us to ask new questions about things like what makes DNA so special, and what life can do.
Vijay Pande is the founding General Partner of a16z Bio + Health, focused on the cross-section of biology and computer science.
Hanne Winarsky is the Head of Writer Acquisition & Development at Substack.
Between the growing ability to engineer biology for therapeutics, and the integration of tech into how patients receive care, bio and health are fundamentally changing the world. Join the team at a16z and host Olivia Webb as they discuss these transformations with scientists, builders, and leaders.