Pollack Laboratory

Uncovering nature's deeply held secrets

Water and Cell Biology

Pioneers such as Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, who won the Nobel Prize for discovering vitamin C and is commonly regarded as the father of modern biochemistry, knew that water’s role in biology was central. Szent-Gyorgyi’s sentiment is: “Life is water dancing to the tune of solids.” The huge literature built around the centrality of water by Gilbert Ling and others has been largely forgotten with current reductionist approaches that emphasize slice-and-dice rather than on more holistic approaches. Some believe that modern biochemistry and cell biology have missed the boat by ignoring the centrality of life’s most abundant constituent: water.


The book, Cells, Gels and the Engines of Life builds on the central role of water for biology. It provides evidence that much of the water in the cell is very near to one or another hydrophilic surface and therefore ordered, and that cell behavior can be properly understood only if this feature is properly taken into account. It goes on to show that seemingly complex behaviors of the cell can be understood in simple terms once a proper understanding of water and surfaces is achieved.

While the book is an award-winning best seller, it has aroused controversy because it questions some long-held basic features of cell function such as membrane channels and pumps. This steps on many scientific toes. Many others have praised the insights obtained from building on a foundation of first principles (see book website above). One prominent reviewer from Harvard University opines that the book is “a 305 page preface to the future of cell biology.”