How Life Began: Evolution's Three Geneses

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University of Chicago Press, Feb 15, 2010 - Science - 296 pages
The origin of life is a hotly debated topic. The Christian Bible states that God created the heavens and the Earth, all in about seven days roughly six thousand years ago. This episode in Genesis departs markedly from scientific theories developed over the last two centuries which hold that life appeared on Earth about 3.5 billion years ago in the form of bacteria, followed by unicellular organisms half a millennia later. It is this version of genesis that Alexandre Meinesz explores in this engaging tale of life's origins and evolution.
How Life Began elucidates three origins, or geneses, of life—bacteria, nucleated cells, and multicellular organisms—and shows how evolution has sculpted life to its current biodiversity through four main events—mutation, recombination, natural selection, and geologic cataclysm. As an ecologist who specializes in algae, the first organisms to colonize Earth, Meinesz brings a refreshingly novel voice to the history of biodiversity and emphasizes here the role of unions in organizing life. For example, the ingestion of some bacteria by other bacteria led to mitochondria that characterize animal and plant cells, and the chloroplasts of plant cells. As Meinesz charmingly recounts, life’s grandeur is a result of an evolutionary tendency toward sociality and solidarity. He suggests that it is our cohesion and collaboration that allows us to solve the environmental problems arising in the decades and centuries to come. Rooted in the science of evolution but enlivened with many illustrations from other disciplines and the arts, How Life Began intertwines the rise of bacteria and multicellular life with Vermeer’s portrait of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, the story of Genesis and Noah, Meinesz’s son’s early experiences with Legos, and his own encounters with other scientists. All of this brings a very human and humanistic tone to Meinesz’s charismatic narrative of the three origins of life.
 

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How life began: evolution's three geneses

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A French marine biologist best known for his work with Mediterranean ecosystems gone awry (documented in his 1999 Killer Algae), Meinesz brings his vast knowledge of molecular biology to bear on the ... Read full review

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HOW LIFE BEGUN.

Contents

Introduction
1
Chapter 1 Henris Cave
5
Chapter 2 On the Origin of Life on Earth
23
Chapter 3 Papa Whats a Bacterium?
50
Chapter 4 The Vampire Slug of the Killer Alga
66
Chapter 5 Vermeer and Van Leeuwenhoek
96
Chapter 6 The Densimeter
121
Chapter 7 The Lego Game
142
Chapter 8 Candide Jurassic Park and Noah
172
Chapter 9 The End of the Evolutionary String
197
Epilogue
227
Notes
235
Index
279
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About the author (2010)

Alexandre Meinesz is professor at the University of Nice–Sophia Antipolis and the author of Killer Algae, also published by the University of Chicago Press. Daniel Simberloff is the Nancy Hunger Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Tennessee and the translator of Killer Algae as well as The Art of Being a Parasite by Claude Combes, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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