When I was a high school student, I came across Erwin Schrödingers What Is Life?. I still remember my exultant reaction—a combination of adolescent pride in feeling able to understand ideas considered beyond a young person’s means, and a genuine intellectual thrill engendered by the problems that Schrödinger addressed. Upon rereading the book, it appears to me that its major value was to provoke interest in a central problem of biology. Schrödinger’s question—What is life? —was mainly, although not exclusively, related to the molecular basis of heredity.

The issue has now been resolved, and many of the questions asked in that classic little book have been answered: The molecular basis of heredity rests in the structure of DNA and in the genetic code. This view resolves the ancient and paradoxical problem of preformation, which asserted that a replica of an organism was contained m the sperm or egg. Rather than...

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