- Hardcover: 281 pages
- Publisher: Prometheus Books; First Edition edition (Oct. 31 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1591025648
- ISBN-13: 978-1591025641
- Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 2.1 x 23.6 cm
- Shipping Weight: 499 g
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #515,264 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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. Many more such examples abound in this book.
He explains how our cells contain DNA segments "independent" from the main DNA molecule in the cell's nucleus. The little energy-providing mitochondria are the result of bacteria invading ancient cells and taking up residence. These supplied the larger cell with energy while the host provided shelter to these miniscule entities. Further, he shows how the Y chromosome, which determines if the human embryo will be male, has its own "markers" to trace changes. From this, he begins to match up the human and ape genomes in building his explanation of our roots. One of the more unexpected finds was the merging of two ancient ape chromosomes into one in humans. Apes have 24 chromosomes to humans 23. Fairbanks explains how we know the fusion took place by pinpointing the loci indicating it.
Perhaps the most gripping chapter of this book is "A Spectacular Confirmation". This segment resulted from the mapping of the full Chimpanzee Genome in a manner similar to the Human Genome Project. An excellent diagram portrays the two genomes together, with the similar and differing areas clearly mapped out. One of the first things the reader will note are the little arrows showing how some human and Chimp chromosomes are reversed relative to each other. He goes on to explain how natural selection can bring such inversions about and what, if any, impact they have.
Lest all this appear to be an overwhelming academic treatise, have no fear. Fairbanks' intention is to bring this information to the widest possible audience. He does so with an almost conversational style. That clarity is enhanced by the fine illustrations accompanying the text. Only rarely is he forced to recapitulate the eye-warping string of As, Ts, Cs and Gs making up your DNA. In so doing, however, he points to the significant segment and explains its importance. That wide audience, of course, includes the element of the population still resisting the idea of natural selection and how it works. In "When Faith and Reason Clash", Fairbanks demonstrates how the US "creationist" element is misguided in claiming that evolution by natural selection and their god cannot co-exist. He shows how misconception and sometimes outright chicanery have combined to mislead the US population into continuing to buy into the Biblical "creation" account at one level or another. It's interesting in this regard that while he addresses mitochondrial DNA and the Y chromosome, he fails to point out the "first couple" of the creationist Bible would have lived eighty thousand years apart according to that research. Given the title of this book and the audience he addresses, this might be considered a major oversight. In all, this is a highly informative book, free of polemical thrusts or deep philosophical concept. It's straight science, well presented and should end one part of the struggle over our roots. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com
I have not seen a better work on this topic anywhere. This is must-read (and understand) material for all religious leaders for whom evolution is a stumbling block - either for themselves or their parishioners. It provides a solid scientific foundation for evolution, and thus serves as an excellent beginning point for discussion of how Christianity, God, and religious faith in general might be raised to a new level interpretation and personal/corporate experience. Any Christian who believes that the reality of evolution can continue to disputed owes it to themselves to be cognizant of this material before they utter a single word to anyone. Knowledge is empowering! Fairbanks has done a great service to the Christian faith in revealing these new scientific/genetic insights in such clear fashion.
Our understanding of DNA has literally exploded over the last couple of decades. The human genome has been sequenced along with that of many other species, and we are able to compare the DNA and the genes of various species, and to trace origins. An analogy the author uses is that of making copies of a picture over and over again using many copying machines (DNA is copied down generations). Dust and similar things will leave specks on the paper that are copied and multiplied throughout the process. A detective could use these specks to trace the origins of the copies back to the originals and even tell you which copying machines were used.
Of special interest with respect to our evolutionary heritage are not so much the true genes (the picture above), of which there are 19,438 confirmed, and possibly 2,188 more, but other stuff (the specks). There are 19,724 confirmed pseudo genes, three million transposable elements (transposons and retroelements), and genes in general contain active elements exons, as well as useless sequences, introns. These segments are especially interesting because they are unaffected by natural selection and therefore mutations pile up in them at a fairly constant rate. By comparing two such segments in two species we can tell how far the species are apart and even how far back in time their common ancestor lived. There are also chromosome rearrangements including fusions, fissions, inversions, translocations, and major duplications and deletions.
The first chapter of the book discusses an interesting case of fusion. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes but the great apes and the chimpanzees as well have 24 pairs. This fact was once used by creationists as an argument against human evolution from the great apes. However, as the DNA was sequenced it stood clear that the human chromosome number two was almost identical to the chimpanzee chromosomes 2A and 2B combined, and by studying the sequences of the base pairs in the so called telomeres and centromeres of these chromosomes geneticists can even tell what happened and when. The human chromosome is a fusion of two chimpanzee/human ancestor chromosomes as opposed to a chimpanzee/human ancestor chromosome being broken up. In appendix two of the book the author is discussing the nine inversions that differentiate chimpanzees from humans. In addition transposons, retroelements, and pseudo genes is evidence for evolution and a problem for creationism, and creationists have to answer why these kinds of genetic elements even exist and why they are so similar between species that are closely related according to evolution. There is also evidence for evolution in the DNA mitochondria, and it can tell us some interesting things about our very distant history as well as our very recent human history.
Based on the similarity in transposons we know that the closest related living animals to whales and dolphins (outside their order) are Hippopotamus, which confirms what we know from the fossil record of whales and the mammals that whales evolved from. Based on the similarity in transposons, pseudo genes, and genes in general (all of the genome) we know that the closest related living animals to humans are chimpanzees and bonobos. In fact chimpanzees and humans are more closely related than chimpanzees and the other great apes. Based on the genetic record chimpanzees are no longer classified as great apes but as Hominini together with humans. Also based on the genetic record we know that chimpanzees and humans had a common ancestor that lived about six million years ago. The fossil for this common ancestor has not been found, but the information in the DNA can often tell us more than the fossil record.
As you can see the book is full of interesting information. The book is also well written and well organized and it is written so that laymen can understand it even though the topic is fairly complex. The author is referencing hundreds of research articles in addition to presenting his own research and understanding as an expert in the field. This makes the book more trustworthy than a book written by, for example, a journalist. The fact that the author is including pictures of DNA sequences (from the genome project) featuring hundreds of base pairs for your own comparison gives you a feeling of "seeing" the evidence with your own eyes. I highly recommend this book.
The author states that he holds deep religious convictions but strongly believes "that attempts to discredit the powerful evidence of evolution actually harm faith rather than promote it." (p. 15)
His book has three appendices: two with further technical information and a really interesting 37-page history of the major contributions to evolutionary genetics and how they came about.
In addition to notes at the end of each chapter, his book includes a 7-page glossary, a 14-page bibliography, and a 13-page index.
This book is an excellent complement to books on evolution which emphasize the fossil record and natural selection, such as Jerry Coyne's "Why Evolution is True," Neil Shubin's "Your Inner Fish," and Donald Prothero's "Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters."
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