Lynn Margulis is an eminent American biologist, distinguished professor at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) and prolific author of accessible and readable books about life, the biology of sex, microbes and Gaia. The Symbiotic Planet
brings together her lifetime work on two major themes, "symbiotic theory" and "Gaia". and sets them in the context of planetary evolution. The book is published as one of a series of "Science Masters", of which a dozen have been published. They are designed to help the popularisation of science and are written by established and well-known scientists. The authors, such as Richard Dawkins (River out of Eden
), Richard Leakey (The Origin of Humankind
) and Lynn Margulis are also known for they ability to communicate their science.
Margulis has spent much of her professional life researching the microcosm of the smallest organisms on Earth, how they evolved and relate to one another. Symbiosis takes place where different species live in close physical contact. Margulis claims: "we are symbionts on a symbiotic planet, and ... we can find symbiosis everywhere". Indeed it is much more prevalent than most people realise, even within our own bodies: "our guts and eyelashes (are) festooned with bacterial and animal symbionts".
Animal and plant cells originated through symbiosis with the permanent incorporation of bacteria in cells as plastids and mitochondria. Margulis has argued that death and sex are essentially linked processes which originated within certain protists. Here she recounts how her ideas developed and how she came to embrace Jim Lovelock's Gaia theory, not any of the cosy or whimsical variants but the one in which "Gaia, a tough bitch, is not at all threatened by humans".
Some of Lynn Margulis's ideas are controversial and, as she recounts here, she has had to struggle at times to be taken seriously, but like Gaia she is remarkably resilient. As this and her other books show, Margulis can well argue her case with laudable conviction. --Douglas Palmer
A distinguished microbiologist explains the importance of symbiosis - where different organisms contribute to each other's support - and how this is changing our view of life on Earth