The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin's Dilemma

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9780300108651: The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin's Dilemma

In the 150 years since Darwin, the field of evolutionary biology has left a glaring gap in understanding how animals developed their astounding variety and complexity. The standard answer has been that small genetic mutations accumulate over time to produce wondrous innovations such as eyes and wings. Drawing on cutting-edge research across the spectrum of modern biology, Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart demonstrate how this stock answer is woefully inadequate. Rather they offer an original solution to the longstanding puzzle of how small random genetic change can be converted into complex, useful innovations.

In a new theory they call facilitated variation,” Kirschner and Gerhart elevate the individual organism from a passive target of natural selection to a central player in the 3-billion-year history of evolution. In clear, accessible language, the authors invite every reader to contemplate daring new ideas about evolution. By closing the major gap in Darwin’s theory Kirschner and Gerhart also provide a timely scientific rebuttal to modern critics of evolution who champion intelligent design.”

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About the Author:

Marc W. Kirschner is professor and chair, Department of Systems Biology, Harvard Medical School. John C. Gerhart is professor in the Graduate School, University of California, Berkeley.

Review:

“Kirschner and Gerhart address some of the most interesting questions in current biology with enthusiasm and intellectual boldness. A remarkable advance in understanding evolution.”—Alan H. Brush, Emeritus, University of Connecticut

 

(Alan H. Brush)

"In this terrific new book, molecular systems meet evolution. The result is a wealth of stimulating ideas set among clear explanations drawn from a revelatory decade in biology."—Andrew H. Knoll, author of Life on a Young Planet
(Andrew H. Knoll)

"A beautifully written account of developmental evolution, integrating molecular and morphological information to describe clearly how highly complex organisms evolve through processes that facilitate variation. A tour de force." —James W. Valentine, author of On the Origin of Phyla (James W. Valentine)

“One word comes to mind when I read this book: elegant. The authors have created an elegant essay/argument/overview of the subject of evolution.”—Margaret Lowman, author of Life in the Treetops: Adventures of a Woman in Field Biology

(Margaret Lowman)

"'Where does all the variation come from to explain the evolution of novel traits?' This book, written in simple yet engaging prose, provides an answer with a theory of facilitated variation."—Peter Grant, Princeton University  (Peter Grant)

"In this thought-provoking and lucidly written book, Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart address one of the most interesting, important, and yet difficult dimensions of evolutionary science—the origins of novelty.  Drawing on a vast body of biological knowledge, from ant trails to the neural wiring of mouse whiskers, the authors illustrate how organisms are equipped to adapt to different and changing circumstances. They propose that variation, the raw material of evolution, is facilitated by newly understood properties of the development and physiology of organisms.  This new view suggests that there is a bias in organisms capacity to evolve and in the directions that evolution takes.  The Plausibility of Life will help readers understand not just the plausibility of evolution, but its remarkable, inventive powers." —Sean Carroll, author of Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo
(Sean Carroll)

"The Plausibility of Life is a brilliant effort to interpret evolutionary biology in the light of recent discoveries in genomics and developmental biology. It should be required reading for scientists and non-scientists alike."—Shirley M. Tilghman, Princeton University   (Shirley M. Tilghman)

"Complex living systems are plausible only if evolution can plausibly generate them. The authors show how this has been achieved by providing many detailed examples to illustrate their theory of facilitated variation. They reveal what might be called the grammar of evolved systems, the flexible organization of processes which allows change by accretion and rearrangement. What emerges is the interesting consequence that it is life by design that is implausible."—Sydney Brenner, Salk Institute
(Sydney Brenner)

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