MAYONNAISE AND THE ORIGIN OF LIFE by Harold J. Morowitz

MAYONNAISE AND THE ORIGIN OF LIFE

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

This second set of essays finds Yale Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry Morowitz in finer fettle than in The Wine of Life. His writing is surer, more deft, and, at the same time, has a lighter, more graceful touch. There is still a problem with last lines, which tend to be heavy-handed, but one can hope that this too shall pass. The essays--all two or three pages long--are loosly grouped under topics like evolution (""The Galapagos""), social issues (""The Prison of Socrates""), unusual individuals (""Dealing from a Full Deck"") and so on. However, these divisions are arbitrary. A treat in reading this is seeing how the chance encounter, trip, or event triggers the inner meditation that gets him leaping into unexpected directions. The title essay is a gem. The exquisite marriage of oil and vinegar that is wrought by egg yolk in the making of mayonnaise serves Morowitz as a model for certain molecules essential to life processes. These are ""amphiphiles""--compounds that love two opposites, in this case oil and water, one end of an amphiphile attracted to water, the other, to oil or fat. It turns out that such molecules form the boundary layers--the membranes--that enclose cells and communicate to the cellular environment outside. Indeed, the ability of such molecular layers to tie a bag of molecules together in the primordial soup may have led to the self-replicating units of life. Elsewhere, Morowitz reveals his compassion for a motherless sea lion and his empathy for students--those pursuing mystic bents or one who returned to lecture on successfully building and flying a human-propelled flying machine across the English Channel. He praises his dentist of 30 years for his Michelangelesque qualities. He worries about FDA over-regulation, and ponders the virtues of garlic in controlling heart disease. In sum, wonderfully diverting and very wise.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1985
ISBN: 091802482X
Publisher: Scribners