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Cradle of Life : The Discovery of Earth's Earliest Fossils - J. William Schopf

Cradle of Life

The Discovery of Earth's Earliest Fossils

Paperback Published: 9th April 2001
ISBN: 9780691088648
Number Of Pages: 392

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One of the greatest mysteries in reconstructing the history of life on Earth has been the apparent absence of fossils dating back more than 550 million years. We have long known that fossils of sophisticated marine life-forms existed at the dawn of the Cambrian Period, but until recently scientists had found no traces of Precambrian fossils. The quest to find such traces began in earnest in the mid-1960s and culminated in one dramatic moment in 1993 when William Schopf identified fossilized microorganisms three and a half "billion" years old. This startling find opened up a vast period of time--some eighty-five percent of Earth's history--to new research and new ideas about life's beginnings. In this book, William Schopf, a pioneer of modern paleobiology, tells for the first time the exciting and fascinating story of the origins and earliest evolution of life and how that story has been unearthed.

Gracefully blending his personal story of discovery with the basics needed to understand the astonishing science he describes, Schopf has produced an introduction to paleobiology for the interested reader as well as a primer for beginning students in the field. He considers such questions as how did primitive bacteria, pond scum, evolve into the complex life-forms found at the beginning of the Cambrian Period? How do scientists identify ancient microbes and what do these tiny creatures tell us about the environment of the early Earth? (And, in a related chapter, Schopf discusses his role in the controversy that swirls around recent claims of fossils in the famed meteorite from Mars.) Like all great teachers, Schopf teaches the non-specialist enough about his subject along the way that we can easily follow his descriptions of the geology, biology, and chemistry behind these discoveries. Anyone interested in the intriguing questions of the origins of life on Earth and how those origins have been discovered will find this story the best place to start.

Winner of the 2000 Phi Beta Kappa Book Award in Science "A book that bears out [Schopf's] assertion that science is enormously good fun!"--Scientific American "What were your very earliest ancestors like? I do not mean your great-great-great-grandparents. I mean the earliest life on the planet. In principle we all have a unique lineage of ancestors that runs all the way back to the origin of life. What was life like then--and is the supposed life on Mars our cousin? These are the problems palaeontologist Bill Schopf faces... It has been a while since I read a book with so much good sense, put over in so amicable a style. If I ever were to discover my great-great-great grandparents I hope they turn out to be as wise as Schopf."--Laurence Hurst, New Scientist "In the well-written Cradle of Life, Schopf tells his own story of how Earth's early microbial biosphere was discovered."--Stefan Bengtson, Nature "A very clear introduction to the first living things... Schopf ... adopts an unusually informal first-person style for this rangy exploration of how Pre-cambrian fossils came to light and what they've taught us."--Publishers Weekly "An exceptional description of the field that is accessible to any educated lay reader."--Library Journal (starred review) "Schopf combines his often entertaining personal story with an introduction to the discipline of paleobiology, with asides on the chemical makeup of life... A good introduction to the history of a science on the cutting edge."--Kirkus Reviews "A good introduction to a quickly evolving topic... Schopf also offers a number of insider nuggets."--Choice "Schopf's subject, the origin of life, is fascinating, and as significant as any question that has ever been asked in academia. His explanation of the science behind his conclusions is clear, his approach is well organized... This is a marvelous, magnificent, scientific adventure."--John R. Alden, Cleveland Plain Dealer "Cradle of Life provides the best current popular overview of the first 85% of life's history on Earth, and that is history worth reading."--Robert M. Hazen, Physics Today "An extraordinary account of a monumentally complex subject presented in simple and understandable terms, and in an eminently readable style."--Steve Voynick, Rock and Gem

Prologuep. xi
Acknowledgmentsp. xv
Darwin's Dilemmap. 3
Breakthrough to the Ancient Pastp. 3
The Nature of Geologic Timep. 4
The "Schoolbook" History of Lifep. 10
Darwin's Dilemmap. 13
Denouementp. 34
Birth of a New Field of Sciencep. 35
The Floodgates Crack Openp. 35
Famous Figures Enter the Fieldp. 48
A Youngster Joins the Frayp. 52
The Floodgates Open Full Borep. 61
The Oldest Fossils and What They Meanp. 71
"Trust but Verify"p. 71
"Real World Problems" in the Search for Early Lifep. 71
Questions and Answers about the Oldest Records of Lifep. 75
The Oldest Fossils Knownp. 99
How Did Life Begin?p. 101
The Basics of Biologyp. 101
The Universals of Lifep. 107
How Did Monomers of CHON Arise on the Lifeless Earth?p. 108
Organic Monomers beyond the Earthp. 131
How Did Monomers Become Linked into Polymers?p. 134
From Monomers to Polymers toward Lifep. 138
Metabolic Memories of the Earliest Cellsp. 139
How Did Cells Begin?p. 139
The Essentials of Lifep. 143
Life's Earliest Way to Make a Livingp. 150
Air and Light: A New Source of Glucosep. 155
Why Do We Breathe Oxygen?p. 158
The Four-Stage Development of Modern Metabolismp. 161
So Far, So Fast, So Early?p. 164
How Old Is the Modern Ecosystem?p. 164
When Did Life Begin?p. 166
How Did Evolution Proceed So Far, So Fast, So Early?p. 168
Paleobiology: Fossils, Geology, and Geochemistryp. 169
Isotopic Evidence of Ancient Metabolismsp. 173
Paleobiology: Direct Evidence of Early Evolutionp. 181
Stromatolites: Earth's First High-Rise Condosp. 183
Nature Is Not Compartmentalizedp. 183
Stromatolites: Earth's First High-Rise Condosp. 184
Stromatolites of the Geologic Pastp. 195
What Are Stromatolites Good For?p. 201
Cyanobacteria: Earth's Oldest "Living Fossils"p. 209
Modes and Tempos in the Evolution of Lifep. 209
The Status Quo Evolution of Cyanobacteriap. 215
Evolution's Most Successful Ecologic Generalistsp. 231
Cells Like Ours Arise at Lastp. 236
Life Like Us Has Cells Like Oursp. 236
DNA and Development: Keys to Eukaryotic Successp. 237
How Old Are the Eukaryotes?p. 240
Eukaryotes Perfect the Art of Cloningp. 243
Sex: A New Lifestyle Brings Major Changep. 246
The Wax and Wane of Precambrian Acritarchsp. 252
Prelude to the Phanerozoicp. 259
Solution to Darwin's Dilemmap. 264
The Adventure of Sciencep. 264
Take-Home Lessonsp. 269
Solution to Darwin's Dilemmap. 269
Epilogue: Extraordinary Claims! Extraordinary Evidence?p. 279
Fossils, Foibles, and Fraudsp. 281
The Goal Is to "Get It Right"p. 281
"Man, a Witness of the Deluge"p. 282
Beringer's Lying Stonesp. 291
Theories on the Nature of Fossilsp. 299
Unearthing a Rosetta Stonep. 303
The Hunt for Life on Marsp. 304
Hints of Ancient Martian Life?p. 304
NASA Stages a Press Conferencep. 306
Meteorites from Marsp. 310
Search for the Smoking Gunp. 313
Lessons from the Huntp. 324
Glossaryp. 327
Further Readingp. 349
Index of Geologic Units and General and Speciesp. 357
Subject Indexp. 361
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

ISBN: 9780691088648
ISBN-10: 0691088640
Audience: Tertiary; University or College
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 392
Published: 9th April 2001
Country of Publication: US
Dimensions (cm): 23.34 x 15.37  x 2.44
Weight (kg): 0.64