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Szent-Gy??rgi called water the "matrix of life" and claimed that there was no life without it. This statement is true, as far as we know, on our planet, but it is not clear whether it must hold throughout the cosmos. To evaluate that question requires a close consideration of the many varied and subtle roles that water plays in living cells-a consideration that must be free of both an assumed essentialism that gives water an almost mystical life-giving agency and a traditional tendency to see it as a merely passive solvent. Water is a participant in the "life of the cell," and here I describe some of the features of that active agency. Water's value for molecular biology comes from both the structural and dynamic characteristics of its status as a complex, structured liquid as well as its nature as a polar, protic, and amphoteric reagent. Any discussion of water as life's matrix must, however, begin with an acknowledgment that our understanding of it as both a liquid and a solvent is still incomplete.

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In a clever study of DNA hydration using SFG spectroscopy, Poul Petersen and his coworkers have found that the chiral spine of hydration in the minor groove, inferred from oxygen locations for hydrated crystalline DNA by Dickerson and collaborators in the 1980s,...