Preface

Life Science for Natural and Physical Science Mechanisms of life as seen from the perspective of molecules, cells, and individuals Compilation: The University of Tokyo Life Science Textbook Editorial Committee
Second Edition
Yodosha
Preface to Revised Edition

The 21st century is known as the age of life science. “What is life?” is a concept that we humans have continued to question since the dawn of mankind. Approximately 2300 years ago, Aristotle provided a number of concrete opinions on “What is life?” in his articles. However, for a long time, the deductive understanding of life has been beset with difficulties.

The discovery of the “double helix structure” by Watson and Crick in 1953 revealed the genetic substance and the mechanisms of gene replication and opened a path for the emergence of modern life science. It became possible to understand life using the phrases and terms used in the fields of physics and chemistry that had developed at that time. After more than half a century, life science has rapidly expanded and provided us knowledge on humans and other organisms, such as the control of genetic information and decoding the genome.

In addition to individuals involved in fields related to life sciences such as biology, medicine, pharmaceutical science, and agriculture, the tremendous increase in life science-related knowledge has inevitably influenced other fields such as engineering, education, literature, law, economics, and general science. Thus, at present, acquiring knowledge regarding life sciences has become essential, regardless of the field of study.

These circumstances formed the background for the University of Tokyo’s 2006 publication of “Life Science—a textbook for science and technology students.” Subsequently, with the 2007 publication of “Life Science for Natural and Physical Science” and the 2008 publication of “Life Science for the Humanities,” we have made efforts to structure the field of life science to accommodate students from all other fields. Fortunately, satisfactory revisions were made to “Life Science” for science and technology, and thus, these textbooks appear to have been widely accepted.

In “Life Science for Natural and Physical Science,” which was primarily planned for life science students, we revised the content based on continuously developing and available information for three years after the publication of the first edition. During this period considerable development has occurred in the field of life science, with non-coding RNA and epigenetic knowledge, including miRNA, prompting a rethinking of the gene concept and stem cell research having reached a new stage of development. Furthermore, the rapid development of analytical technology has made possible the accumulation of vast amounts of data, hitherto thought impossible, to the point where decoding the total genome of an individual within a short period is becoming a reality. In this revised edition of the book, we have incorporated these new developments where required, while maintaining our stance as a textbook based on established content. Furthermore, in terms of technical terminology, we have made all efforts for generic representation of information despite the increasing difficulty of providing uniform definitions because of the expansion of a range of related fields.

In addition to the University of Tokyo, this book has been used as a textbook at many universities and research institutions throughout the country. We re-examined the overall configuration and amount of content in order to incorporate as much feedback as possible in the form of valuable opinions from lecture experiences at these institutions. In particular, we have included a separate chapter on the much requested topic of “immunization,” explaining not only cell biology-related views but also its social aspects.

Although this is a new edition, the aims of the book have not changed. We have taken care to provide accurate and easy-to-understand description throughout the book to ensure that students new to university, including those who have never studied life science, can understand the basis for the “mechanisms of life,” necessary when learning life sciences. The first five chapters serve as an introduction to life science, with emphasis on understanding the general properties of organisms. The overall structure involves understanding life from a hierarchical perspective. While “Life Science for Science and Technology” was structured to show the expansion of life with a focus on the cell, this book includes additional four parts (for a total of five) to understand life from a more comprehensive perspective—from a molecule to a cell and an individual and from an individual to a species. We hope to deepen the understanding of all life science students about the entire aspects of life through dynamic structures and ingenious control systems at each level. We have also provided explanations on the “diversity and evolution of organisms” and “genome,” which can be keywords of the 21st century, so that students may be acquainted with interdisciplinary aspects and future developments in modern life science. Each chapter includes “columns” incorporating the latest information on related topics and historical accounts to show how great discoveries of the past were made and expanded. Information on important, fundamental experimental procedures and their principles are provided as appendices at the end of the book for those aspiring to study life science in detail.

We hope that through this book you will perceive the wonder, beauty, and profundity of the mechanisms of biological phenomena by studying the universality and diversity of approximately 10 million species of life on Earth. This enhances our understanding as humans. While decoding of the genome of various organisms has made us question again what life is, we will be glad if this book serves as an impetus for you students as leaders of life science in the 21st century to explore and provides a bridge to specialized courses.

Finally, editing and revision of this book was conducted by the staff of the Biology Section, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the University of Tokyo and the Life Science Network through the efforts of the staff of the Center for Structuring Life Sciences, the University of Tokyo. Allow me to take this opportunity to extend my thanks to those involved.

Early spring, 2010
Editing representative
Makoto Asashima

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