10 Great Books on (E)volution

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10 Great Books on (E)volution

Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History by Eva Jablonka, Marion J. Lamb

Ideas about heredity and evolution are undergoing a revolutionary change. New findings in molecular biology challenge the gene-centered version of Darwinian theory according to which adaptation occurs only through natural selection of chance DNA variations. In Evolution in Four Dimensions, Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb argue that there is more to heredity than genes. They trace four “dimensions” in evolution — four inheritance systems that play a role in evolution: genetic, epigenetic (or non-DNA cellular transmission of traits), behavioral, and symbolic (transmission through language and other forms of symbolic communication). These systems, they argue, can all provide variations on which natural selection can act. Evolution in Four Dimensions offers a richer, more complex view of evolution than the gene-based, one-dimensional view held by many today. The new synthesis advanced by Jablonka and Lamb makes clear that induced and acquired changes also play a role in evolution.After discussing each of the four inheritance systems in detail, Jablonka and Lamb “put Humpty Dumpty together again” by showing how all of these systems interact. They consider how each may have originated and guided evolutionary history and they discuss the social and philosophical implications of the four-dimensional view of evolution. Each chapter ends with a dialogue in which the authors engage the contrarieties of the fictional (and skeptical) “I.M.,” or Ifcha Mistabra — Aramaic for “the opposite conjecture” — refining their arguments against I.M.’s vigorous counterarguments. The lucid and accessible text is accompanied by artist-physician Anna Zeligowski’s lively drawings, which humorously and effectively illustrate the authors’ points.

Evolution: A View from the 21st Century by James A. Shapiro

James A. Shapiro proposes an important new paradigm for understanding biological evolution, the core organizing principle of biology. Shapiro introduces crucial new molecular evidence that tests the conventional scientific view of evolution based on the neo-Darwinian synthesis, shows why this view is inadequate to today’s evidence, and presents a compelling alternative view of the evolutionary process that reflects the shift in life sciences towards a more information- and systems-based approach in Evolution: A View from the 21st Century. Shapiro integrates advances in symbiogenesis, epigenetics, and saltationism into a unified approach that views evolutionary change as an active cell process, regulated epigenetically and capable of making rapid large changes by horizontal DNA transfer, inter-specific hybridization, whole genome doubling, symbiogenesis, or massive genome restructuring. Evolution marshals extensive evidence in support of a fundamental reinterpretation of evolutionary processes, including more than 1,100 references to the scientific literature. Shapiro’s work will generate extensive discussion throughout the biological community, and may significantly change your own thinking about how life has evolved. It also has major implications for evolutionary computation, information science, and the growing synthesis of the physical and biological sciences.

The Music of Life: Biology beyond the Genome by Denis Noble

What is Life? Decades of research have resulted in the full mapping of the human genome – three billion pairs of code whose functions are only now being understood. The gene’s eye view of life, advocated by evolutionary biology, sees living bodies as mere vehicles for the replication of the genetic codes. But for a physiologist, working with the living organism, the view is a very different one. Denis Noble is a world renowned physiologist, and sets out an alternative view to the question – one that becomes deeply significant in terms of the living, breathing organism. The genome is not life itself. Noble argues that far from genes building organisms, they should be seen as prisoners of the organism. The view of life presented in this little, modern, post-genome project reflection on the nature of life, is that of the systems biologist: to understand what life is, we must view it at a variety of different levels, all interacting with each other in a complex web. It is that emergent web, full of feedback between levels, from the gene to the wider environment, that is life. It is a kind of music. Including stories from Noble’s own research experience, his work on the heartbeat, musical metaphors, and elements of linguistics and Chinese culture, this very personal and at times deeply lyrical book sets out the systems biology view of life.

The Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology Is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease, and Inheritance by Nessa Carey

Epigenetics can potentially revolutionize our understanding of the structure and behavior of biological life on Earth. It explains why mapping an organism’s genetic code is not enough to determine how it develops or acts and shows how nurture combines with nature to engineer biological diversity. Surveying the twenty-year history of the field while also highlighting its latest findings and innovations, this volume provides a readily understandable introduction to the foundations of epigenetics. Nessa Carey, a leading epigenetics researcher, connects the field’s arguments to such diverse phenomena as how ants and queen bees control their colonies; why tortoiseshell cats are always female; why some plants need cold weather before they can flower; and how our bodies age and develop disease. Reaching beyond biology, epigenetics now informs work on drug addiction, the long-term effects of famine, and the physical and psychological consequences of childhood trauma. Carey concludes with a discussion of the future directions for this research and its ability to improve human health and well-being.

Evolution, the extended synthesis by Massimo Pigliucci, Gerd B. Müller

In the six decades since the publication of Julian Huxley’s Evolution: The Modern Synthesis, the spectacular empirical advances in the biological sciences have been accompanied by equally significant developments within the core theoretical framework of the discipline. As a result, evolutionary theory today includes concepts and even entire new fields that were not part of the foundational structure of the Modern Synthesis. In this volume, sixteen leading evolutionary biologists and philosophers of science survey the conceptual changes that have emerged since Huxley’s landmark publication, not only in such traditional domains of evolutionary biology as quantitative genetics and paleontology but also in such new fields of research as genomics and EvoDevo. Most of the contributors to Evolution, the Extended Synthesis accept many of the tenets of the classical framework but want to relax some of its assumptions and introduce significant conceptual augmentations of the basic Modern Synthesis structure — just as the architects of the Modern Synthesis themselves expanded and modulated previous versions of Darwinism. This continuing revision of a theoretical edifice the foundations of which were laid in the middle of the nineteenth century–the reexamination of old ideas, proposals of new ones, and the synthesis of the most suitable — shows us how science works, and how scientists have painstakingly built a solid set of explanations for what Darwin called the “grandeur” of life.

The Tangled Field: Barbara McClintock’s Search for the Patterns of Genetic Control by Nathaniel C. Comfort

This biographical study illuminates one of the most important yet misunderstood figures in the history of science. Barbara McClintock (1902-1992), a geneticist who integrated classical genetics with microscopic observations of the behavior of chromosomes, was regarded as a genius and as an unorthodox, nearly incomprehensible thinker. In 1946, she discovered mobile genetic elements, which she called “controlling elements.” Thirty-seven years later, she won a Nobel Prize for this work, becoming the third woman to receive an unshared Nobel in science. Since then, McClintock has become an emblem of feminine scientific thinking and the tragedy of narrow-mindedness and bias in science. Using McClintock’s research notes, newly available correspondence, and dozens of interviews with McClintock and others, Comfort argues that McClintock’s work was neither ignored in the 1950s nor wholly accepted two decades later. Nor was McClintock marginalized by scientists; throughout the decades of her alleged rejection, she remained a distinguished figure in her field. Comfort replaces the “McClintock myth” with a new story, rich with implications for our understanding of women in science and scientific creativity.

BEEM: Biological Emergence-based Evolutionary Mechanism: How Species Direct Their Own Evolution by Raju Pookottil

In BEEM, author and engineer Raju Pookottil boldly diverges from the Darwinian theory of natural selection and offers a thought provoking counter-hypothesis for the evolution of all living organisms. He proposes that every species, be it single cells, plants or animals, are equipped with the fundamental mechanisms that allows them to generate intelligent and logical decisions that they could then utilize in directing their own evolution. Whereas natural selection depends on random mutations followed by selection, Pookottil argues that species are capable of deciding how to logically construct themselves to near perfection over many generations, making modifications to their own genes where necessary. The principles of emergence, swarm intelligence and signal networks, which he proposes are available to all living organisms, could in fact be the real forces that cleverly and logically drive the evolution of every species on earth. Our brains work by exploiting these very same principles. It is proposed that the complex signal networks that exist between the millions of protein molecules in a cell, or the billions of cells that make up larger organisms, are also capable of generating intelligent solutions, albeit at a slower pace. The hypothesis also argues that species are in control of their own genomes and that they are able to engineer their genetic codes where necessary in order to incorporate ‘design modifications’. Thus, species meaningfully assess their environment, create ingenious solutions, and crucially, pass them on to subsequent generations. Using observable examples, BEEM builds up a strong case supporting these arguments.

A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock by Evelyn Fox Keller

For much of her life she worked alone, brilliant but eccentric, with ideas that made little sense to her colleagues. Yet before DNA and the molecular revolution, Barbara McClintock’s tireless analysis of corn led her to uncover some of the deepest, most intricate secrets of genetic organization. Nearly forty years later, her insights would bring her a MacArthur Foundation grant, the Nobel Prize, and long overdue recognition. At her recent death at age 90, she was widely acknowledged as one of the most significant figures in 20th-century science. Evelyn Fox Keller’s acclaimed biography, A Feeling for the Organism, gives us the full story of McClintock’s pioneering―although sometimes professionally difficult―career in cytology and genetics. The book now appears in a special edition marking the 10th anniversary of its original publication.

Developmental Plasticity and Evolution by Mary Jane West-Eberhard

The first comprehensive synthesis on development and evolution: it applies to all aspects of development, at all levels of organization and in all organisms, taking advantage of modern findings on behavior, genetics, endocrinology, molecular biology, evolutionary theory and phylogenetics to show the connections between developmental mechanisms and evolutionary change. This book solves key problems that have impeded a definitive synthesis in the past. It uses new concepts and specific examples to show how to relate environmentally sensitive development to the genetic theory of adaptive evolution and to explain major patterns of change. In this book development includes not only embryology and the ontogeny of morphology, sometimes portrayed inadequately as governed by “regulatory genes,” but also behavioral development and physiological adaptation, where plasticity is mediated by genetically complex mechanisms like hormones and learning. The book shows how the universal qualities of phenotypes–modular organization and plasticity–facilitate both integration and change. Here you will learn why it is wrong to describe organisms as genetically programmed; why environmental induction is likely to be more important in evolution than random mutation; and why it is crucial to consider both selection and developmental mechanism in explanations of adaptive evolution. This book satisfies the need for a truly general book on development, plasticity and evolution that applies to living organisms in all of their life stages and environments. Using an immense compendium of examples on many kinds of organisms, from viruses and bacteria to higher plants and animals, it shows how the phenotype is reorganized during evolution to produce novelties, and how alternative phenotypes occupy a pivotal role as a phase of evolution that fosters diversification and speeds change. The arguments of this book call for a new view of the major themes of evolutionary biology, as shown in chapters on gradualism, homology, environmental induction, speciation, radiation, macroevolution, punctuation, and the maintenance of sex. No other treatment of development and evolution since Darwin’s offers such a comprehensive and critical discussion of the relevant issues. Developmental Plasticity and Evolution is designed for biologists interested in the development and evolution of behavior, life-history patterns, ecology, physiology, morphology and speciation. It will also appeal to evolutionary paleontologists, anthropologists, psychologists, and teachers of general biology.

The Paradigm Shifters: Overthrowing ‘the Hegemony of the Culture of Darwin’ by Suzan Mazur

Major scientists from a dozen countries present evidence that a paradigm shift is underway or has already taken place, replacing neo-Darwinism (the standard model of evolution based on natural selection following the accumulation of random genetic mutations) with a vastly richer evolutionary synthesis than previously thought possible.

This list was adapted from http://www.thethirdwayofevolution.com/books

Filed under: 10 Great Books, Biology, Evolution, Evolution

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