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Winner of the 2010 Royal Society Prize for science booksPowerful new research methods are providing fresh and vivid insights into the makeup of life. Comparing gene sequences, examining the atomic structure of proteins and looking into the geochemistry of rocks have all helped to explain creation and evolution in more detail than ever before. Nick Lane uses the full extent of this new knowledge to describe the ten greatest inventions of life, based on their historical impact, role in living organisms today and relevance to current controversies. DNA, sex, sight and consciousnesses are just four examples.Lane also explains how these findings have come about, and the extent to which they can be relied upon. The result is a gripping and lucid account of the ingenuity of nature, and a book which is essential reading for anyone who has ever questioned the science behind the glories of everyday life.
“One of the deepest, most illuminating books about the history of life to have been published in recent years.” —The Economist The Earth teems with life: in its oceans, forests, skies and cities. Yet there’s a black hole at the heart of biology. We do not know why complex life is the way it is, or, for that matter, how life first began. In The Vital Question, award-winning author and biochemist Nick Lane radically reframes evolutionary history, putting forward a solution to conundrums that have puzzled generations of scientists. For two and a half billion years, from the very origins of life, single-celled organisms such as bacteria evolved without changing their basic form. Then, on just one occasion in four billion years, they made the jump to complexity. All complex life, from mushrooms to man, shares puzzling features, such as sex, which are unknown in bacteria. How and why did this radical transformation happen? The answer, Lane argues, lies in energy: all life on Earth lives off a voltage with the strength of a lightning bolt. Building on the pillars of evolutionary theory, Lane’s hypothesis draws on cutting-edge research into the link between energy and cell biology, in order to deliver a compelling account of evolution from the very origins of life to the emergence of multicellular organisms, while offering deep insights into our own lives and deaths. Both rigorous and enchanting, The Vital Question provides a solution to life’s vital question: why are we as we are, and indeed, why are we here at all?
From the big bang, to the origin and evolution of intelligent life in a search for the meaning of human existence, Why are We Here?, by author Bruce Brodie, offers a look at evolution and the future of life on the planet. Through many years of research and study, Brodie addresses a host of questions: • How did chemistry come to life? • How did the release of oxygen by cyanobacteria change the natural history of life? • How did mass extinctions reset the clock and reshape the course of biological evolution? • Why are homo sapiens so dominant? • Why do humans build vast civilizations, while chimps, with whom we share more than 98 percent of our DNA, are confined to forests and experimental laboratories and zoos? • How will cultural and technological evolution, which have transcended the slow pace of biological evolution, shape the future of life on the planet? • Can we escape the many existential threats that hover over us? Why are We Here? offers a new perspective on how we think about the world, and our place and our purpose in the universe and the future of humanity. It presents a lasting sense of the amazing wonder and mystery of life.
In 1995, John Maynard Smith and Eörs Szathmáry published their influential book The Major Transitions in Evolution. The "transitions" that Maynard Smith and Szathmáry chose to describe all constituted major changes in the kinds of organisms that existed but, most important, these events also transformed the evolutionary process itself. The evolution of new levels of biological organization, such as chromosomes, cells, multicelled organisms, and complex social groups radically changed the kinds of individuals natural selection could act upon. Many of these events also produced revolutionary changes in the process of inheritance, by expanding the range and fidelity of transmission, establishing new inheritance channels, and developing more open-ended sources of variation. Maynard Smith and Szathmáry had planned a major revision of their work, but the death of Maynard Smith in 2004 prevented this. In this volume, prominent scholars (including Szathmáry himself) reconsider and extend the earlier book's themes in light of recent developments in evolutionary biology. The contributors discuss different frameworks for understanding macroevolution, prokaryote evolution (the study of which has been aided by developments in molecular biology), and the complex evolution of multicellularity.
“Simultaneously sobering and exhilarating, Michael Tennesen’s wide-ranging survey of disasters highlights both life’s fragility and its metamorphosing persistence” (Booklist) and describes what life on earth could look like after the next mass extinction. A growing number of scientists agree we are headed toward a mass extinction, perhaps in as little as 300 years. Already there have been five mass extinctions in the last 600 million years, including the Cretaceous Extinction, during which an asteroid knocked out the dinosaurs. Though these events were initially destructive, they were also prime movers of evolutionary change in nature. And we can see some of the warning signs of another extinction event coming, as our oceans lose both fish and oxygen, and our lands lose both predators and prey. In The Next Species, Michael Tennesen questions what life might be like after it happens. In thoughtful, provocative ways, Tennesen discusses the future of nature and whether humans will make it through the bottleneck of extinction. Could life suddenly get very big as it did before the arrival of humans? Could the conquest of Mars lead to another form of human? Could we upload our minds into a computer and live in a virtual reality? How would we recognize the next humans? Are they with us now? Tennesen delves into the history of the planet and travels to rainforests, canyons, craters, and caves all over the world to explore the potential winners and losers of the next era of evolution. His predictions, based on reports and interviews with top scientists, have vital implications for life on earth today. The Next Species is “an engrossing history of life, the dismal changes wrought by man, and a forecast of life after the sixth mass extinction” (Kirkus Reviews).
This volume describes features of autonomy and integrates them into the recent discussion of factors in evolution. In recent years ideas about major transitions in evolution are undergoing a revolutionary change. They include questions about the origin of evolutionary innovation, their genetic and epigenetic background, the role of the phenotype and of changes in ontogenetic pathways. In the present book, it is argued that it is likewise necessary to question the properties of these innovations and what was qualitatively generated during the macroevolutionary transitions. The author states that a recurring central aspect of macroevolutionary innovations is an increase in individual organismal autonomy whereby it is emancipated from the environment with changes in its capacity for flexibility, self-regulation and self-control of behavior. The first chapters define the concept of autonomy and examine its history and its epistemological context. Later chapters demonstrate how changes in autonomy took place during the major evolutionary transitions and investigate the generation of organs and physiological systems. They synthesize material from various disciplines including zoology, comparative physiology, morphology, molecular biology, neurobiology and ethology. It is argued that the concept is also relevant for understanding the relation of the biological evolution of man to his cultural abilities. Finally the relation of autonomy to adaptation, niche construction, phenotypic plasticity and other factors and patterns in evolution is discussed. The text has a clear perspective from the context of systems biology, arguing that the generation of biological autonomy must be interpreted within an integrative systems approach.
We are in the midst of a revolution. It is a scientific revolution built upon the tools of molecular biology, with which we probe and prod the living world in ways unimaginable a few decades ago. Need to track a bacterium at the root of a hospital outbreak? No problem: the offending germ's complete genetic profile can be obtained in 24 hours. We insert human DNA into E. coli bacteria to produce our insulin. It is natural to look at biotechnology in the 21st century with a mix of wonder and fear. But biotechnology is not as 'unnatural' as one might think. All living organisms use the same molecular processes to replicate their genetic material and the same basic code to 'read' their genes. The similarities can be seen in their DNA. Here, John Archibald shows how evolution has been 'plugging-and-playing' with the subcellular components of life from the very beginning and continues to do so today. For evidence, we need look no further than the inner workings of our own cells. Molecular biology has allowed us to gaze back more than three billion years, revealing the microbial mergers and acquisitions that underpin the development of complex life. One Plus One Equals One tells the story of how we have come to this realization and its implications.

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