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The Arizona State University Origins Project in partnership with the Science Network, J. Epstein Foundation and the NASA Astrobiology Institute has sponsored another interesting debate – The Great Debate – What is Life? This follows on from their recent debate on morality -  The Great Debate – Can Science tell us Right from Wrong? (see Telling right from wrong).

I have yet to watch “What is Life?” (videos and audio downloads are available) but it certainly looks interesting. From the Science Network description:

Richard Dawkins, J. Craig Venter, Nobel laureates Sidney Altman and Leland Hartwell, Chris McKay, Paul Davies, Lawrence Krauss, and The Science Network’s Roger Bingham discuss the origins of life, the possibility of finding life elsewhere, and the latest development in synthetic biology. More than 2500 people filled ASU Gammage Auditorium on Saturday, February 12 to listen to this remarkable collection of scientists whose particular perspectives range from the cosmic to the microscopic.

And information on the panel and participants follows:

What is Life? Panel Discussion

Richard Dawkins, J. Craig Venter, Nobel laureates Sidney Altman and Leland Hartwell, Chris McKay, Paul Davies, Lawrence Krauss, and The Science Network’s Roger Bingham discuss the origins of life, the possibility of finding life elsewhere, and the latest development in synthetic biology.

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins is a renowned evolutionary biologist and author. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society and was the inaugural holder of the Charles Simonyi Chair of Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. His first book, The Selfish Gene, was an international bestseller and is now a classic work of modern evolutionary biology. His other books include The Blind Watchmaker, River Out Of Eden, Climbing Mount Improbable, Unweaving the Rainbow, The Ancestor’s Tale, and The God Delusion.

Sidney Altman

Sidney Altman is the Sterling Professor of Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology at Yale University and an Origins Project Distinguished Visiting Professor at Arizona State University. He won the 1989 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discoveries concerning the catalytic properties of RNA. His discoveries opened up new fields of scientific research and biotechnology and caused scientists to rethink old theories of how cells function. They also led to new hypotheses about the emergence of RNA on Earth and the possibility that RNA was the molecule that gave rise to the Earth’s first life forms.

Lee Hartwell

Lee Hartwell won the 2001 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine for discoveries related to the genetics of cell division. His discovery demonstrated the unity of all life and has significantly impacted cancer research. A former president of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Hartwell now directs the Center for Sustainable Health at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute and is Virginia G. Piper Chair of Personalized Medicine.

Chris McKay

Chris McKay is a planetary scientist with the Space Science Division of the NASA Ames Research Center and is one of the world’s leading experts on Titan. His broader interests focus on understanding the relationship between the chemical and physical evolution of the solar system and the origin of life. He has been actively involved in planning for future Mars missions including human settlements.

J. Craig Venter

J. Craig Venter is the Founder, Chairman and President of the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) a not-for-profit research and support organization dedicated to human, microbial, plant and environmental genomic research, the exploration of social and ethical issues in genomics, and seeking alternative energy solutions through genomics. In May 2010 the J. Craig Venter Institute published results describing the successful construction of what has been described as the first self-replicating, synthetic bacterial cell. Dr. Venter is also Co-Founder, Chairman, CEO, and Co-Chief Scientific Officer of Synthetic Genomics Inc., a privately held company founded in 2005, is dedicated to developing and commercializing genomic-driven solutions to address global energy and environment challenges.

Paul Davies

Paul Davies is College Professor in the Department of Physics and Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at Arizona State University. He helped create the theory of quantum fields in curved spacetime, and currently champions the theory that Earth may host a shadow biosphere of alternative life. His newest book is The Eerie Silence. He has won numerous awards including the 1995 Templeton Prize.

Lawrence Krauss

Lawrence Krauss is Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and Director of the ASU Origins Project at Arizona State University. He is the only physicist to have received the highest awards from all 3 major US professional physics societies. His publications include The Physics of Star Trek, Quintessence, and Atom, and the newly released Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science.

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