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Relics of Eden: The Powerful Evidence of Evolution in Human DNA Hardcover – Oct 31 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Genetics professor Fairbanks, author of several science books for laymen (Genetics: The Continuity of Life), presents the details of evolution as gleaned from a close study of genetics, but marshals his evidence in a conversational style readily comprehensible to general readers. Fairbanks excels at explaining the momentous discoveries in genetics in the past 20 years in clear, concise language, helpfully defining relatively new terms (introns, telomeres, transposable elements) as well as older terms (mutation, natural selection). Using comparative genomics, in which the human genome is compared to those of other primates, mammals, vertebrates, insects and bacteria, Fairbanks shows how the human genome can only be explained as the evolutionary product of numerous pre-existing species, placing humans in a family tree that ties together all life on Earth and maps its genetic changes over time. From there, he engages in a familiar critique of the "intelligent design" theory of creation ("When Faith and Reason Clash"); himself a Mormon, Fairbanks makes some interesting points regarding the canard that the sciences in general, and evolution in particular, are at odds with religion. Notes, references and extensive appendices go into greater technical detail; general readers looking for an overview of current genetics and evolution science will find this a great place to start.
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"Brilliantly conceived, this excellent book shows how DNA sequences confirm the fact of human evolution. Wide ranging though not superficial, detailed though not technical, filled with fresh examples and engaging vignettes, the book is respectful of dissenting opinions but leaves literal creationists with no place to hide." —Daniel Hartl, Higgins Professor of Biology, Harvard University
"What an exciting surprise! Instead of the usual embryos and fossils, Fairbanks uses new molecular evidence. And he zeros in on a major controversy, the origin of humans and our relation to other primates. The arguments are presented with unusual clarity and they are overwhelmingly convincing."
—James F. Crow, emeritus professor of genetics at the University of Wisconsin, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and author of Genetics Notes
"As Fairbanks sensibly reminds us, there is a time and place for science and for religion, both of which enrich the human experience. Anyone who is troubled by the seeming dichotomy between the two modes of inquiry may gain perspective and comfort from this fine book, which should be supplemental reading in every biology classroom." —Cecie Starr, author of Biology: The Unity and Diversity of Life
Top Customer Reviews
Early genetic studies demonstrated that the genome of chimpanzees and humans were strikingly similar. More recent work has examined those similarities in greater detail. The evidence shows how specific areas in the human and chimp genomes are often duplicated exactly. Fairbanks, after noting how DNA's structure has some deceptive tricks up its molecular sleeve, explains how these have been used to trace the links between apes and humans. There are "transposons", segments of DNA that "Cut and Paste" themselves to new locations. We have many of these, but they seem to have settled down to become analytical tools. There are pseudogenes, retroelements, introns and other characteristics which add to the researcher's analytical tool kit in making studies across species. Just one example, locating pseudogenes, has permitted mapping of the divergence of orang utans, gorillas, chimpanzees and humans.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Fairbanks' interests lie in the DNA evidence: comparing human DNA with that of chimpanzees, orangutangs, and other animals. You'll gain a good understanding of transpons, retroelements, and pseudogenes, and how these can be used to analyze evolutionary processes: the evidence is as solid as fingerprints. The DNA makeup of the immediate common ancestor of both humans and chimpanzees, for example, can be deduced. Another interesting point that Fairbanks talks about is the using the diversity of current human DNA to determine human origins. The greatest diversity in the DNA of any species is at the point of origin. As people brought seeds, for example, to a new part of the world, they were bring mostly one strain--little diversity in the DNA. The greatest human diversity is in Africa: you can gather DNA and do not have to be in the field in Olduvai Gorge (the DNA work backs up Leakey's discoveries and work). Native American DNA matches most closely with Asians: this is further evidence for the land bridge and migration from Asia.
There are lots of diagrams of genes, DNA, and chromosomes to supplement a very well-written text. Fairbanks' work is a fine scientific complement to the field work of the Shubins, Leakeys, and others, and he makes a very compelling case.
In "Relics of Eden: The Powerful Evidence of Human Evolution in DNA" author Daniel J. Fairbanks unleashes an avalanche of data from the Human Genome Project, and other studies, that leave biblical creationists and c-design-proponentsists (of Dover vs. Kitzmiller infamy) without a fig leaf to cower behind.
"Relics" exclusively utilizes molecular evidence in lieu of fossils and fearlessly addresses the major controversy raging on the origins front of the talibanesque culture war - human evolution and our relationship to other primates - as expressed in the DNA of every person on earth. These relics are millions of non-coding segments of DNA, snippets of our genome that eloquently document common descent with uncommon clarity and incontrovertible evidence.
From chromosomal fusion and pseudogenes to retroelements and transposons the scientific reality of evolution is discussed in articulate, accurate and engaging prose alongside carefully designed illustrations that emphasize and illuminate key points.
Specifics include detailed treatments of how human chromosome 2 resulted from the fusion of two separate chromosomes (corresponding to chimpanzee chromosomes 2A and 2B) after the lineage leading to modern humans split from the one leading to contemporary chimpanzees.
A through discussion of transposable elements, also known as transposons and retroelements (aka 'jumping genes'), such as Alu elements, HERV-K, CMT1A, and GULO provide exacting confirmation of human evolution and our ancestral affiliation with other primates.
Pseudogenes (including unitary pseudogenes, duplication pseudogenes and retropseudogenes) are covered next. Comparisons of pseudogene sequences across species reveal a consistent pattern. Human pseudogenes are most similar to those in chimpanzee DNA, and are highly similar to those of other primates. Species as divergent as rodents and humans also display some degree of ancient pseudogene similarity - additional evidence of our shared evolutionary history with kindred primates, and more distantly related mammals.
"Solving the Trichotomy" (Chapter 4) addresses the evolutionary relationship between humans, chimpanzees and gorillas. Mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequences both show that humans and chimpanzees are more closely related to each other than either is to gorillas. Genome-wide comparison of the human and chimpanzee genomes spectacularly confirms that the genes, chromosomes, transposable elements, and pseudogenes of humans and chimpanzees are strikingly similar. As Fairbanks notes:
"Although the molecular differences constitute only a fraction of the two genomes, they are not trivial. They represent some of the most powerful evidence of common ancestry because they are fully consistent with known mechanisms of chromosome rearrangement, generation of recent transposable elements and pseudogenes, and the effects of natural selection we expect to observe in certain genes and their regulatory regions. The comparison is massive, including thousands of genes and pseudogenes, millions of transposable elements, and billions of base pairs in DNA."
Human mitochondrial DNA diversity, X-chromosome diversity, Y-chromosome diversity, and diversity of DNA sequences in all chromosomes unambiguously reveals that the cradle of humanity (the 'Eden' title reference) is located in sub-Saharan Africa, and also tracks subsequent migrations across the entire globe - initially to the Middle East and Asia, then Europe, Australia, and the Americas.
Three appendices allow readers to delve into these, and other topics, in additional detail. A comprehensive glossary and bibliography are also provided. Fairbanks has written a book that is simultaneously accessible and scientifically sophisticated - a wonderful achievement.
In the final chapter Fairbanks confronts Americans who "...still claim that evolution is a 'theory in crisis,' unsupported by solid evidence, and one that should be abandoned." He addresses "the ongoing assault on science by highly organized and well-funded groups whose political objectives are to cast doubt on the reality of evolution and to restrict or dilute it in the science curricula of public schools."
As a person of faith Fairbanks appeals to co-religionists to disavow the false dichotomy erected by fundamentalists between science (especially evolution) and religion. His spirituality is nourished by wonder and excited by exploration, not shackled by superstition or held captive by fear.
Huckabee huckleberries should embrace, not eviscerate, Fairbanks - he has written one of the most insightful popular works on human evolution in recent memory - and boldly demonstrates that scientific integrity needn't be sacrificed to religious dogma.
Other titles you might enjoy include The Last Human: A Guide to Twenty-Two Species of Extinct Humans (reviewed seperately) by G. J. Sawyer, Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body (reviewed seperately) by Neil Shuban, Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters by Donald J. Prothero, and The Age of Everything: How Science Explores the Past by Matthew Hedman.
Fairbanks, writing from his perspective as a research geneticist, lays out in layman's language some of the basic building blocks for reconstructing the history of life on our planet from DNA. He proceeds to give the reader an overview of what DNA tells us about the interrelatedness of species. I found the book easy to read, and informative. Some of the early chapters (as he develops the building blocks of genetic understanding) are somewhat technical. But the payoff comes as he demonstrates how these bits of information are used to paint a remarkably consistent picture of our past.
The principle of common descent is no longer deniable in the face of DNA evidence. Either humans share a common ancestry with all living things, or the Creator went to a great deal of trouble to make it look that way, right down to the tiniest details of our DNA. If evolution did not happen, then the Creator is a trickster and a deceiver, and all science is rendered meaningless. Relics of Eden powerfully confirms this understanding (Fairbanks describes the mounting evidence as "spectacular"). But the trail of DNA science does not stop there. Comparative DNA is like an accurate time clock, giving us strong clues regarding the "when" of various evolutionary events. This growing treasure trove of information is also being used to reconstruct the great human migrations across our planet, and to do so with a precision which has never been possible for the anthropologist before. And perhaps most significantly, DNA science today is able to trace the history and development of various diseases, and offer up new ways of combating them. It is ironic that so many who resist what DNA is telling us about the history of life on our planet are more than ready to accept the great medical advancements of our day which are based upon the same science. Modern medical science is built upon the evolutionary model.
The final two chapters consist of an appeal to both sides of what Fairbanks characterizes as a false dichotomy: that somehow faith and reason cannot co-exist. Without detailing his own beliefs, Fairbanks makes it clear that he is a man of faith who believes in God as Creator. He appeals to those who choose to perpetuate psuedo-scientific creationism and Intelligent Design to reexamine the evidence, and lay down their battle-axes. I say, "Amen!"
Tracking fossil evidence in DNA means following the histories of mutations in non-coding DNA segments. There are several different kinds of mutations - some of them more unique than a birthmark. When mutations occur in active coding genes (>2% of the genome), an impaired embryo usually results and neither the new life-form nor the new mutation survives. The mutations that occur in most non-coding segments of DNA have no effect on the embryo, so the life-form is normal, and any mutations accumulate harmlessly in that life-form and its descendants. The earlier on the "tree of life" the mutation occurs, the more species will carry it. Our DNA is full of these gene-prints left by our ancestors.
Here's the simple version of how it works: Orangutans, gorillas, chimps, and humans all had a common ancestor. Then orangutans forked off, leaving gorillas, chimps and humans. Then gorillas forked off, leaving chimps and humans. If a mutation is not in gorillas, chimps, or humans but is in orangutans; you know the mutation happened after orangutans forked off from the common ancestor to all four. If a given mutation is in gorillas but not in the chimps, you can expect it won't be in humans, either.
With a boost from the human genome project, hundreds of species' genomes have been published in the last few years. Studying DNA sequences in species thought to be closely related shows exactly when one species branched off in relation to the other. Since you can use this method for all living things, including living species that haven't changed in 400 million years, molecular biologists are having a field day. A few species have been relocated but by and large, the tree of life painstakingly put together from fossil and geological evidence by paleontologists has been confirmed.
If you just want one good example of how to use DNA "fossil" evidence, read chapter one. Fairbanks explains with words and pictures how the 24 chromosomes of the chimp became 23 chromosomes in the human. Briefly, chimp chromosome two and three fused. The very specific chromosomal and molecular details as to what happened are there for you. Importantly, data like that is only the tip of the iceberg. With such incontrovertible documentation throughout the tree of life as recorded in DNA, I have to ask myself how any reasonable person who honestly studies this subject could doubt evolution.
In 1998, the National Academy of Sciences issued this statement, written before common usage of genome comparison: "It is no longer possible to sustain scientifically the view that living things did not evolve from earlier forms or that the human species was not produced by the same evolutionary mechanisms that apply to the rest of the living world." Now large scale experiments based on DNA analysis have spectacularly confirmed what we already knew.
Fairbanks doesn't overwhelm the reader with details of molecular biology, but those without a bit of an appropriate background might have their hands full. Even so, technical parts can be skipped without missing the point. Anyone thinking there's a controversy about evolution should read this book. As Theodosius Dobzhansky said, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."
While I was cognizant of this fairly recent discovery and expected its inclusion in the book, I wondered how Fairbanks could top that explosive find to keep the book compelling given its position early in the book. Compelling though it is, Fairbanks goes on to provide discovery after discovery that moves deep into the structure of DNA. One of the more fascinating tutorials was how the mutations that occur over time are utilized by species when their environment changes, where Fairbanks does an expert job of explaining how mutations are leveraged by natural selection. He follows this summary with an explanation, supported again by overwhelming evidence; on how populations evolve to the point they are now a different species. In fact his reportage in this area was the most impressive I've encountered in all my general science reading. This is especially important when making an argument for evolution in human DNA coupled to the reality that most non-scientists do not understand the mechanism that could cause a population to evolve to a point they are a new species.
Fairbanks also provides great insight into how science can methodically track back our current genome to its origins, even tracking into the DNA of common ancestral species by using the DNA available in modern day flora and fauna. Fairbanks describes how the DNA in all life provides the "fossil" evidence for our common ancestry along with the evidence needed to relate the closeness of our relationships and the rational inferences on when certain speciation events occurred. The fact this trail is independently confirmed by both the geologic record and the fossil record amply closes the door that "intelligent design" is at work, unless the designer was very unintelligent given the inefficiency of mostly extraneous material in DNA from a design perspective. The fact the actual fossil and geologic record are independently validated by this new evidence has firmly established the theory of evolution as one with overwhelming evidence with no imaginable alternative explanations. Don't believe it? Read this book and then reassess your position.
In terms of reading level, I think anyone who understands high school biology or can read at the college level will enjoy and learn from this book. You may not understand the properties and laws at play but the story will sufficiently emerge, be understood, and provide an enjoyable read. My one criticism of the book is that given Fairbanks provides no primer on molecular biology; the glossary's definitions should have been more expansive. I suggest reading the book near an on-line computer so you can look up the terms in a superior glossary.
There are several book formats available to the general reader to consider the strength of the theory of evolution. I've categorized a few while offering some recommendations that are very readable for the general reader. Other criteria considered was the integrity of the author and the fealty to reporting only peer-accepted work rather than creating arguments that lack peer-accepted evidence:
1) A general tutorial that exposes the reader to the physical evidence while also serving as either a tutorial or inferred case study on scientific methodology. These sorts of books often tie together the multitude of disciplines which have independently validated the evidence though also tending towards some bias in terms of focusing more on fossil evidence at the expense of DNA evidence - especially those published prior to several years ago. These books often ignore creationist arguments given those argument are not scientific. Carl Zimmer's Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins [SMITHSON INTIMATE GT HUMAN ORI] is an excellent example and worthy of any library especially given its photographs and illustrations. I have strong confidence that Zimmer's about to be released book The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution will also be a worthy edition to one's library given that I anticipate his new book will have far more DNA evidence than the Smithsonian book (he's stated as such in his blog).
2) A general tutorial similar to the above example while considering creationist arguments is Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution Is True. Its recent publication date allows Coyne to incorporate much of the more recent DNA evidence that corroborates the fossil evidence. Choices in this area and the former argue for new publications given the wealth of recent discoveries, especially in molecular and developmental biology as we continue to use new technologies to map and observe genomes of an increasing number of species, including our own. Coyne's selection of evidence is also biased towards evidence that falsifies any notions of a creator/designer, especially pseudogenes; genes that were once active in ancestors but have become inactivated.
3) A book that focuses primarily on the debate between science and creationism is Ken Miller's Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul. Given Miller's status as a cell biologist who also teaches a introductory level biology course at Brown University, Miller is an excellent instructor that doesn't avoid molecular biology as much as previous general evolution books.
4) Profiles and memoirs of scientists engaged in evolution that also present evidence of evolution though focusing on a particular discovery or the personal experiences of the scientists themselves. These take on a more personal tone while often reporting on an aspect of the compelling evidence for evolution. Two masterpieces have been recently published, Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body (Vintage) and Sean B. Carroll's Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origin of Species. Shubin and Carroll present the romantic aspect of the journey and discovery that can make a scientific life so personal fulfilling while greatly advancing human knowledge. However, the amount of evidence, along with the breadth of these offerings' coverage is astonishing. I was most impressed and amazed at how broad a functional expert Shubin is, going well beyond the fame he's earned with his fieldwork right into the lab in terms of his discoveries in developmental biology.
5) A comprehensive review of a subset of the functions that contribute to our current set of findings and understanding. These made good follow-up books to the more general books like Coyne's aforementioned book. Examples in this category have authors focusing specifically on the fossil evidence, or the evidence in our DNA. Three books appear to have risen to the top in this area, all are very worthy reads. Fairbanks' offering reviewed here, Carroll's competing offering, The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution, and regarding the fossil and geologic evidence, Donald Prothero's Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters.
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