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Making of the Fittest: Dna And The Ultimate Forensic Record Of Evolution Paperback – Aug 28 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Picking up where scientists like Richard Dawkins have left off, Carroll, a professor of genetics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo-Devo), has written a fast-paced look at how DNA demonstrates the evolutionary process. Natural selection eliminates harmful changes and embraces beneficial ones, and each change leaves its signature on a species' DNA codes. For example, the Antarctic ice fish today has no red blood cells; yet a fossilized gene for hemoglobin remains in its DNA, showing that the fish has adapted over 55 million years by losing the red blood cells that thicken blood and make it harder to pump in extreme cold. The fish has developed other features that allow it to absorb and circulate blood without hemoglobin. . Carroll points out that by examining the DNA of these ice fish species, it's possible to map its origins as well as the history of the South Atlantic's geology. He also uses dolphins, colobus monkeys and microbes to demonstrate how deeply evolution is etched in DNA. While searches for the genetic basis for evolution are hardly new, Carroll offers some provocative and convincing evidence. 7 pages of color illus.; 50 b&w illus. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Sensing that many people misunderstand evolution or don't believe it, geneticist Carroll here hopes to teach the interested and convince the doubters. He uses popular interest in animals as his lure and selects specific creatures, beginning with bloodless fishes of the Antarctic seas, as stages for his substantive points about evolution. More particularly, Carroll focuses on specific genes carried by his cast of animals to demonstrate natural selection. Carroll considers the animals' most favorable adaptations, preserved in what he calls "immortal genes"; several hundred are common to all domains of life. Carroll then scales up to the macroscopic and considers traits such as color vision in monkeys; the vision and anatomy of fish, including the famous coelacanth; and the sickle-cell trait in humans. In each case, Carroll explains how the DNA code of the gene responsible for the trait is inferred to be the result of natural selection working on mutations, which occur at a steady rate. Here is evolution clearly explained and stoutly defended. REVWR
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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The author's selection of examples to explain DNA's role in life may seem bizarre at first glance: "icefish" carrying "anti-freeze" in their bodies, what humble pigeons tell us about life, and what human skin colour really means. Each of his examples carries an historical record of how they came to be that way. Evolution, he reminds us, builds upon what went before. Once a trait, no matter how "primitive", is established, mutation may improve its possibility of success down the generations. "Primitive", by the way, is a term Carroll shuns, since those traits that survive are clearly best suited for that organism in that time and place. It's important to understand that, since a good many health issues relying on genetic research must be considered in the light of environmental conditions. Infectious organisms change to cope with treatment and medicines must be developed to cope with their adaptations. This is the record of life, with the earliest genes bifurcating to form new traits with the passage of time and new conditions.
Carroll's chapters address a number of life's little quirks.Read more ›
Sadly, the second last chapter is devoted to arguing against those who doubt evolution. While I appreciate the author providing "ammunition" for those who confront such people, what so many evolutionary authors miss is that it isn't an issue of the facts. Those are blatantly obvious and abundant. Rather, it's about faith, which is a much subtler issue. So I don't know how effective this chapter really is. The last chapter is about extinction of the fittest, or how humanity is screwing wildlife across the globe (he focuses primarily on overfishing). That's certainly true, but again, I don't know if more facts is the best solution. Anyone who knows anything knows that we're badly overfishing the oceans.
But I don't want these two preachy, out-of-place chapters to take away from the really good science of the book. I don't even disagree with the content of the two chapters, just their inclusion in an otherwise fact-based exploration of what DNA reveals about the principles of evolution, and its history on Earth. Very interesting stuff indeed!
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