The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin's Dilemma

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Yale University Press, Oct 19, 2005 - Science - 336 pages
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Two biologists tackle the unresolved question in the field of evolution: how have living organisms on Earth developed with such variety and complexity?

In the 150 years since Darwin, the field of evolutionary biology has left a glaring gap in understanding how animals developed their astounding variety and complexity. The standard answer has been that small genetic mutations accumulate over time to produce wondrous innovations such as eyes and wings. Drawing on cutting-edge research across the spectrum of modern biology, Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart demonstrate how this stock answer is woefully inadequate. Rather they offer an original solution to the longstanding puzzle of how small random genetic change can be converted into complex, useful innovations.

In a new theory they call “facilitated variation,” Kirschner and Gerhart elevate the individual organism from a passive target of natural selection to a central player in the 3-billion-year history of evolution. In clear, accessible language, the authors invite every reader to contemplate daring new ideas about evolution. By closing the major gap in Darwin’s theory Kirschner and Gerhart also provide a timely scientific rebuttal to modern critics of evolution who champion “intelligent design.”

“Makes for informative and enjoyable reading, and the issues the authors raise are worthy of attention.”—American Scientist

“Thought-provoking and lucidly written…The Plausibility of Life will help readers understand not just the plausibility of evolution, but its remarkable, inventive powers.”—Sean Carroll, author of Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo


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The plausibility of life: resolving Darwin's dilemma

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Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection has itself evolved to encompass various complementary theories in a "grand synthesis" of thought, which remains, however, incomplete. Typically ... Read full review


INTRODUCTION A Clock on the Heath
ONE The Sources of Variation
TWO Conserved Cells Divergent Organisms
THREE Physiological Adaptability and Evolution
FOUR Weak Regulatory Linkage
FIVE Behavior
SIX Invisible Anatomy
SEVEN Facilitated Variation
EIGHT Is Life Plausible?

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About the author (2005)

Marc W. Kirschner is professor and chair, Department of Systems Biology, Harvard Medical School. John C. Gerhart is professor in the Graduate School, University of California, Berkeley.

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