Epigenetics upends natural selection and genetic mutation as the sole engines of evolution, and offers startling insights into our future traits.
In the 1700s Jean-Baptiste Lamarck first described epigenetics to explain the inheritance of acquired characteristics, but in the 1800s, his theory was supplanted by Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection through heritable genetic mutations. But natural selection could not adequately explain how quickly species re-diversified and re-populated after mass extinctions. Now advances in the study of DNA and RNA have resurrected epigenetics, which can create radical physical and physiological changes in subsequent generations by the simple addition of a single small molecule, thus passing along a propensity for molecules to attach in the same places in the next generation!
Epigenetics is a complex process, but paleontologist and astrobiologist Peter Ward breaks it down for general readers, using the epigenetic paradigm to reexamine how the history of our species--from deep time to the outbreak of the Black Plague and into the present--has left its mark on our physiology, behavior, and intelligence. Of particular interest are chapters on how we are undergoing epigenetic changes now triggered by toxins, environmental pollutants, famine, poor nutrition, and overexposure to violence.
Lamarck's Revenge is an eye-opening and controversial exploration of how traits are inherited, with special emphasis on outside influences that drive what we pass along to our progeny.
About the Author
Peter Ward is a professor of biology and of Earth and space sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle, and has authored seventeen books, among them the prizewinning Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe, with Donald Brownlee. He also teaches as the University of Adelaide in Australia. He has been a main speaker at TED and has received the Jim Shea Award for popular science writing. He lives in Washington.
A NEW HISTORY OF LIFE deserves kudos for infectious elan, impressive scholarship and a plausible accounting of life's herky-jerky, hurry-up-and-wait tribulations. * Wall Street Journal (A NEW HISTORY OF LIFE) *
If you want to open your mind to the depths of modern thinking, then A NEW HISTORY OF LIFE is for you. Read it! * San Francisco Book Review (A NEW HISTORY OF LIFE) *
A NEW HISTORY OF LIFE makes for an exciting and comprehensive read, enthralling to science nerds and lay readers who are curious about the rich natural history of planet Earth. * Nature World News (A NEW HISTORY OF LIFE) *
The authors, both scientists, propose several different ways of looking at the history of life on earth, including the role that catastrophes played in shaping the development of living things. * Seattle Times (A NEW HISTORY OF LIFE) *