Preface

The 21st century is said to be an age of life science. This word—life science—refers to more than just biology: it also includes medicine, pharmacy, agriculture and other fields that deal directly with life science. Now that the analysis of biological phenomena is advancing at an exponential rate, life science is affecting various academic fields, which include not only engineering fields for applications of life science, but the humanities such as economics, education, literature, sociology, and law as well. In this “age of life science,” the knowledge and information about life science have a great impact on various aspects of everyday life. To some extent, biological knowledge is predicted to become established in society as general knowledge. Thus, there is a need for scientific literacy - an accurate understanding of a broad range of scientific knowledge including fields of life science.

Recent progress in research on fields of life science has generated widespread interest and has received much media coverage. Perhaps, the backgrounds of such a spreading interest lie in the fundamental root of curiosity about what it means for us to be human, and general interest in a highly important issue of what kind of future will unfold as medical technology progresses. Considerable amounts of media coverage on new discoveries and controversial issues allow us to rethink of our existence and feel that we are directly connected to life in and of itself. The issues which we mean by include: the completion of human genome mapping; ethical issues on the establishment and use of human embryonic stem cells (ES cells); and treatment and handling of cancer and new infectious diseases.
Media coverage shifts over time. Even if sensationalism is eliminated, there is no mistaking that all issues involving life science are important for every one of us. Such issues include, but not limited to, the definition of life, the manner in which the humans have evolved, the sustainable development of the global environment and human society, and the problems of an aging society and population. In order to appropriately cope with such an array of problems, we all need to learn how to think scientifically and to gain knowledge of understanding the current state of life science without separating the humanities and the sociology course from the science course.
In Western universities, too, life science is being emphasized in both humanities and sciences; this surely reflects the necessity and the increasing importance of understanding what it means to be human and addressing such fundamental issues as how we should deal with and think about development in life science. Life science is an indispensable field in 21st century education. However, the amount of information necessary to grasp the entire present state of life science is too enormous. In cooperation with the entire school system at University of Tokyo, we have thus far published two books for the education of life science: “Life Science” for Students of Science Course I, which focuses mainly on engineering, and a second volume, “Life Science for Students in General Science,” for students of Science Courses II and III, which focus more on life science. Both books were published by Yodosha.
Although we’re now having this book published for readership of mostly students in humanities, we have included the viewpoints of improving scientific literacy for all students in other fields.

We have written this textbook from somewhat different perspectives from the previous two books. And from those perspectives, life science can be understood based on three axes. We consider the fundamental knowledge of life science as the X axis, while emphasizing understanding based on the human aspects of life science as the Y axis. Furthermore, we promote understanding of life science based on its relationship with society as the Z axis. As mentioned above, the amounts of knowledge, technology and information about life science currently made available is everywhere, and yet everything is all closely tied to our society. By understanding life science from three-dimensional perspectives comprising these three axes, and by once again learning about the position and extent of life science in human society, we may be able to understand the complexity and a certain “depth” of the human existence, and in some sense, to rediscover the magnificence of human beings. Moreover, humans cannot exist alone; we must coexist with other living things. The diversity, coexistence, and harmony of living things are keywords of life science. Another important issue is Bioethics, particularly the issues including, but not limited to cloning of organisms, genetic testing, and reproductive medicine, which all are already closely involved in the modern society in which we live. Under such circumstances, we all face challenging tasks such as sharing accurate information without prejudice, thinking of what the problems really are, and deciding what to do in the future. Through this textbook, we hope that people will enjoy modern life sciences from the perspective of the relationship between humans and society whether they have studied life science or biological science in the past.

It is our sincere hope that the information that readers can gain through this textbook will help them deepen, enrich their knowledge for their future, and benefit them in their future occupations and endeavors.
During the publication of this book, we received cooperation from many faculty members at University of Tokyo and also from faculty at University of Tokyo Center for Structuring Life Sciences. We would like to express our heartfelt thanks to them all.

Editors
Spring 2008

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