Nobel Prize-winning scientist defines life | Paul Nurse

Nobel Prize-winning scientist Paul Nurse defines the 5 core principles of life.

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What is the essence of being alive? This is the question that geneticist and cell biologist Paul Nurse dissects in his book “What Is Life?” At the core of life lies cells — entities that can grow, divide, and reproduce.

Using yeast as a model organism, Nurse discovered a similarity in cell reproduction mechanisms between yeast and humans, hinting at a shared ancestral origin for all life dating back a billion years or more. This commonality extends to genes, the units of inheritance, first recognized in peas by Gregor Mendel. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection proposes that life adapts and evolves, favoring traits that are advantageous for survival.

Life, Nurse illustrates, is a complex orchestration of chemistry and information management. DNA, the biological hard drive, stores crucial information, facilitating the operations of life. The essence of life, then, is a self-contained, evolving system, uniting chemistry, information, and inheritance to adapt and persist.

0:00 The big question of biology
0:57 1. The Cell
2:41 2. The Gene
3:28 3. Evolution by natural selection
4:20 4. Chemistry
5:20 5. Information
6:27 What is life?


About Paul Nurse:
Paul Nurse, Ph.D, is a British biochemist. He was awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Leland H. Hartwell and R. Timothy Hunt for their discoveries regarding cell cycle regulation by cyclin and cyclin dependent kinases. He became Rockefeller University’s ninth president in 2003.


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