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Chance in Biology:
Using Probability to Explore Nature
Mark Denny & Steven Gaines

Paperback | 2002 | $85.00 | £70.95 | ISBN: 9780691094946
312 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 4 halftones, 81 line illus., 7 tables
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Life is a chancy proposition: from the movement of molecules to the age at which we die, chance plays a key role in the natural world. Traditionally, biologists have viewed the inevitable "noise" of life as an unfortunate complication. The authors of this book, however, treat random processes as a benefit. In this introduction to chance in biology, Mark Denny and Steven Gaines help readers to apply the probability theory needed to make sense of chance events--using examples from ocean waves to spiderwebs, in fields ranging from molecular mechanics to evolution.

Through the application of probability theory, Denny and Gaines make predictions about how plants and animals work in a stochastic universe. Is it possible to pack a variety of ion channels into a cell membrane and have each operate at near-peak flow? Why are our arteries rubbery? The concept of a random walk provides the necessary insight. Is there an absolute upper limit to human life span? Could the sound of a cocktail party burst your eardrums? The statistics of extremes allows us to make the appropriate calculations. How long must you wait to see the detail in a moonlit landscape? Can you hear the noise of individual molecules? The authors provide answers to these and many other questions.

After an introduction to the basic statistical methods to be used in this book, the authors emphasize the application of probability theory to biology rather than the details of the theory itself. Readers with an introductory background in calculus will be able to follow the reasoning, and sets of problems, together with their solutions, are offered to reinforce concepts. The use of real-world examples, numerous illustrations, and chapter summaries--all presented with clarity and wit--make for a highly accessible text. By relating the theory of probability to the understanding of form and function in living things, the authors seek to pique the reader's curiosity about statistics and provide a new perspective on the role of chance in biology.


"An excellent introduction to the uses of probability theory for a reader who is more familiar with biology than with mathematics . . . Denny and Gaines have done a valuable service to biologists who are interested in a quantitative approach to life sciences."--Paul Janmey, Nature Cell Biology

"A lively, well-written text. . . . A student who reads this book closely will come away with a much deeper appreciation for the universality of diffusion mechanics in science, the deep connections between the distributions central to inferential statistics, the importance of extreme events and how to deal with them analytically, and, most importantly, the power and limitations inherent in the underpinning of the inferential statistics that the student has learned elsewhere."--Mark R. Patterson, American Scientist

"This is a fantastic book. Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to find a more readable and lucid introduction to probability theory."--Gary B. Gillis, Journal of Experimental Biology


"This is a thoroughly delightful and scholarly tour through the theory and application of probability and statistics in biology. The reader will learn much about the fundamentals of stochastic processes, as well as much about the biology itself. The best of mathematical biology."--Simon Levin, Princeton University

"Chaos need not imply anarchy--it's a law abiding state permitting proper predictions. But how to deal with it? Finally we have a guidebook to the rules of the random road, thanks to Denny and Gaines. Better still, it has biological breadth, with processes from cellular to oceanic scales coming in for analysis and providing material for examples. Even better, it's engagingly written, with grace, clarity, and wit."--Steve Vogel, Duke University

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