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The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution Paperback – 8 Jan 2009


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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Quercus (8 Jan 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847247245
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847247247
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2.3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 420,092 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Dazzling work, passionate and magisterial. Nothing of more lasting importance than the core narrative of this book will be published this year - Guardian

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For more than a century, we were restricted to studying evolution from the outside, observing its progress only through the fossil record. No longer. We can now also read the DNA record. As well as containing the operating instructions for everyday existence and for making the next generation, DNA contains a vast and detailed history of the development of life on Earth. It is a living chronicle of evolution, pinpointing the precise changes that have enabled Earth's marvelous creatures to inhabit the planet's shifting environments, from the freezing waters of the Antarctic to the lush canopy of the rainforest. Our new ability to read the DNA record has resoundingly confirmed Darwin's main principles and has led to some surprising discoveries. We now know that there is a set of “immortal” genes in the DNA of nearly every creature, from bacteria to whales. These genes first emerged three billion years ago and have survived the constant onslaught of mutations that would have erased them eons ago were it not for natural selection. We have also discovered fossil genes - areas of DNA that have fallen into disuse and decay. Such relics illuminate the traits and capabilities that have been abandoned as species, including humans, evolved new lifestyles. Perhaps the most profound surprise is that evolution can and does repeat itself. Identical adaptations have occurred in species as different as butterflies and humans - a discovery that overthrows the notion that if we replayed the history of life, all of the outcomes would be different. Captivating and lucid, The Making of the Fittest delves deep into the DNA record to reveal not just how the fittest survive but also how they are made.

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell TOP 500 REVIEWER on 16 July 2008
Format: Hardcover
Most of this book is a primer on how the study of DNA code from various species sheds light on the evolutionary process. The text is as clear as such a text can be considering how abstract the DNA sequences are to even the well educated reader. There are numerous charts and tables, drawings, black and white photos (and some color plates) and such in this timely, handsome and well-presented book to guide the reader. I only wish that I could have grasped the details in a more concrete manner.

DNA codes for proteins, of which there are vast numbers. These proteins are formed from amino acids of which life uses twenty, and in turn these amino acids are called up by the sequence of letters in the code. Presumably (Carroll does not make this clear) as the zygotic cell divides, working its way to the composition of the complete organism, the DNA code is read in sequence like a tape fed into a bar code. First this protein and then that protein and then still another is made and somehow strung together in an exacting order so that, voila! a massively complex organism is constructed. What is not in this book is an explanation of how these proteins know where to go and when. Presumably that knowledge is part of the very sequence of the code, or perhaps it is implicit in the positions in space of the proteins relative to one another. In others words, the DNA code is only the most obvious and "visible" part of the microscopic reproductive process.

If you are like me and are looking for the same sort of explanation, this book will be of limited value. Prof. Carroll's purpose is not to make transparent the reproductive process at the chemical level.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on 24 July 2008
Format: Hardcover
It's a sad commentary that any book on biology published in the US must devote pages and ink to refuting the rants of "anti-Darwinists" in that nation. Richard Dawkins ["The Selfish Gene"] holds a chair at promoting "Public Understanding of Science" at Oxford. Carroll, whose role as a professor of genetics provides firm underpinning, is establishing himself in a similar niche in the US. This book is an example of how well he can fulfill that undertaking. In his previous work "Endless Forms Most Beautiful", Carroll described some of the manifestations of the genome's activities. In this book he delves more into today's operations within the genome and how those were derived from the distant past.

The author's selection of examples to explain DNA's role in life may seem bizarre at first glance: "icefish" carrying "anti-freeze" in their bodies, what humble pigeons tell us about life, and what human skin colour really means. Each of his examples carries an historical record of how they came to be that way. Evolution, he reminds us, builds upon what went before. Once a trait, no matter how "primitive", is established, mutation may improve its possibility of success down the generations. "Primitive", by the way, is a term Carroll shuns, since those traits that survive are clearly best suited for that organism in that time and place. It's important to understand that, since a good many health issues relying on genetic research must be considered in the light of environmental conditions. Infectious organisms change to cope with treatment and medicines must be developed to cope with their adaptations. This is the record of life, with the earliest genes bifurcating to form new traits with the passage of time and new conditions.

Carroll's chapters address a number of life's little quirks.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Nick Candoros on 17 Jun 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Genetics science has mushroomed the last 50 years, overturning many cherished preconceptions in biology and other Natural Sciences, while buttressing other theories with an abundance of hard scientific evidence. Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution through Natural Selection has been in the later category, with its core assumptions confirmed by the new data about DNA structure, history and function.
The book is composed by a series of essays on the nature and function of genes within the DNA code, embedded in the cells of every living organism. The author offers ample evidence, from experimental data, about how exactly the workings of genes are ultimately responsible for the shaping and evolution of the Natural World around us. The point of the whole demonstration is to establish that Natural Selection mechanisms, as defined by Darwin about 150 years ago, are alive, well and firmly supported by the new data.
The text is aimed at the general public but some knowledge in basic biology and DNA function will help the reader to follow the arguments more closely. It is not a prerequisite though, since the author explains thoroughly the more stringent points, with help from the illustrations.
The last part of the book is the most disappointing, since it involves the denial of evolution, based on religious grounds, and a dire comment on the continuing destruction we inflict to the planet's ecosystems. The author's position, and one that I personally agree totally with, is that alarm bells are already sounding in many quarters and we no longer have the option of intellectual blindness.
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