Sudden Origins: Fossils, Genes, and the Emergence of Species

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9780471379126: Sudden Origins: Fossils, Genes, and the Emergence of Species
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"Fascinating."-Nature
Finally a compelling answer to the question that has plagued scientists for centuries . . .
"A detailed and informative historical account."-Nature
"This is an intriguing and significant work."-Library Journal
"A provocative new theory to explain how species arise."-Scientific American
"A worthwhile attempt at bridging the new developments in how species may change and the evidence for the patterns of those changes."-American Scientist
Darwin may have argued that new species emerge through a slow, gradual accumulation of tiny mutations, but the fossil record reveals a very different scenario-the sudden emergence of whole new species, with no apparent immediate ancestors.
In this provocative and timely book, Jeffrey Schwartz presents a groundbreaking and radical new theory that explains exactly how evolution works. Turning to the marvels of genetics, paleontology, embryology, and anatomy, and introducing the recent discovery of an extraordinary type of gene, known as homeobox genes, Schwartz provides an evocative answer to the long-standing question: How do species emerge?
Writing with the expert knowledge only an insider can bring, Schwartz tells the intriguing history of the study of evolution, from the initial breakthrough discoveries to the famous Piltdown controversy up through the genetics revolution. Sudden Origins is a monumental book that ties together all the threads of evolutionary theory while providing a compelling answer to one of life's most enduring conundrums. This book is crucial reading for anyone who has ever pondered the mysteries of our evolutionary heritage.

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Despite the title, Darwin's Origin of Species doesn't really explain how new species are born. Scientists have been struggling with that thorny problem ever since its publication, and the recent revolution in molecular biology has turned up great piles of new evidence. Anthropologist Jeffrey H. Schwartz takes a close look at this evidence, as well as the more traditional paleontological material, in Sudden Origins: Fossils, Genes, and the Emergence of Species. He claims that the tide is turning in favor of "punctuated equilibrium"--the theory that species typically remain static for great lengths of time and then experience brief spurts of accelerated change--thanks in no small part to the discovery of homeobox genes.

These remarkable structures are the genetic equivalent of the proverbial butterfly wings that cause hurricanes halfway around the world--small changes can produce enormous effects. Homeobox genes regulate development and are remarkable similar between species and even between phyla--you share some with fruit flies, for example. By turning our attention toward embryology and development, Schwartz shows us that fossils can't tell the whole story, since much of it lies within the womb. He covers a lot of ground and stretches the reader's intellectual muscles; the scope of Sudden Origins and the greater understanding of Darwin's problem make the challenge well worth it. --Rob Lightner

About the Author:

JEFFREY H. SCHWARTZ, Ph.D., is a professor of anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of the critically acclaimed The Red Ape and What the Bones Tell Us. He is also the coauthor, with Ian Tattersall, of the forthcoming landmark three-volume work, The Human Fossil Record.

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