Cardiac Rehab was delighted to welcome more than 300 people at the Alton Maltings to hear a lecture titled What is Life given by Sir Paul Nurse on Thursday, November 23.

Sir Paul, Noble Laureate in the field of control of cell division and director of the Francis Crick Institute, is a geneticist and cell biologist who is one of the most distinguished and decorated of UK scientists.  

The audience were held in rapt attention as Sir Paul expanded on his theme by describing five great ideas of biology that could potentially define life. 

Starting with the cell, the building block of life that is ubiquitous in animals and plants alike, and within which all life’s processes occur, he then moved on to talk about DNA and genes which control expression of characteristics to make a whole organism. 

The third idea was that of evolution by natural selection as set out by Darwin, which has resulted in the huge variety of life on our planet, which was followed by a biochemist’s view that ‘Life is chemistry’ since the chemical reactions of metabolism and the complex systems it creates maintain living organisms.  

The final idea was ‘Life as information’ which brings together all of the previous four but alludes to the directed purpose of each of the ideas, rather than random molecules and reactions, so that cells, metabolism, genetic variation and inheritance combine to a unified whole.  

Alongside these insights, Sir Paul related how his own enthusiasm for biology was sparked and inspired by the world of insects, particularly for beetles and butterflies, which provided some beautiful illustrations during the talk. 

All of this was delivered in accessible and humble manner which left the audience wishing for more.

The talk was followed by a short question and answer session – topics raised including control of cell division and T cell responses, both ‘whole Lectures in their own right’, before a vote of thanks was given by consultant cardiologist Dr Andrew Bishop.  

Dr Bishop thanked Sir Paul for all his work as a public scientist, acknowledging the debt of gratitude we have to such public servants, but also thanked him for giving us hope that Life will succeed as it has been doing for billions of years.  

He reflected on the fact that evolution ensures that Life adapts to changing environments and to meet different circumstances just as the Cardiac Rehab Centre has adapted over the past 30 years to meet new needs of prevention of heart disease and now providing cancer rehabilitation.  

The evening raised funds for the Basingstoke and Alton Cardiac Rehabilitation Charity.  

Chief executive Sarah Quarterman said: “Our grateful thanks to Sir Paul for opening up our understanding of how biology approaches the most philosophical of questions as ‘What is Life?’ in such an accessible and engaging way, and for finding time to come and deliver a lecture on behalf of Cardiac Rehab.  

“The evening couldn’t have happened without our sponsors – Sheen Stickland – or our amazing volunteers who kept the wine flowing and the canapes coming at the reception.

“We receive no funding from the NHS or central government so the money raised from the evening will enable us to secure our future so we can continue our work helping those who have had a heart attack recover, preventing heart disease, and now helping cancer patients rehabilitate after treatment.”

The lecture was preceded by a reception with wine and soft drinks, and a selection of delicious homemade canapés. Sir Paul was available to sign his book What is Life, supplied by Goldfinch Books of Alton.

Cardiac Rehab would like to thank Sir Paul for an exceptionally interesting and yet humbling lecture. Thank you also to the event sponsors, Sheen Stickland, and to everyone who attended helping to raise a fabulous £8,900 for the charity.