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Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom Paperback – 6 Jan 2011
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'Sean B. Carroll is the ideal author to lead the curious on this intellectual adventure - he is the acknowledged leader of the field' Lewis Wolpert. (Lewis Wolpert)
'Impressively skilful first book' Independent. (Independent)
'A first-rate introduction to Evo Devo' Nature. (Nature)
'Carroll... writes in a lively style, peppering the book with endlessly fascinating examples' Scientific American. (Scientific American)
'Provides an essential glimpse into both the creation of life and the excitement of scientific discovery' Sunday Telegraph. (Sunday Telegraph)
'Makes Evo Devo accessible to a wider readership ... Carroll does it splendidly' Guardian. (Guardian)
Sean Carroll explores how evolution has shaped nature's wondrous complexity and diversity, from insects to octopuses, from mice to men.See all Product description
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In the book he walks us through a whole set of cases where the mechanism for the way structure in living creatures develops is elucidated in great genetic detail. He discusses a series of cases where specific deformations can be shown to be the result of specific mutations, and shows us how these results can be understood and generalised.
He then goes into details about fruit flies. These little creatures are a backbone of genetics research, since they are so easy and quick to handle and make experiments on. And they turn out to be extraordinarily interesting! It turns out that fruit fly genes are found all across the animal kingdom, including in us, and wherever they are found they are used in the same (generalised) way. The new understanding is of a "toolbox" approach. Nature appears to have a genetic toolbox to make the riot of different forms that we see.
Then, in Part II, he becomes even more exciting. He says: "The stories I will tell create a vivid new picture of the evolutionary process ... discoveries have revealed one of the 'Holy Grails' of evolutionary biology -- the precise genetic changes responsible for evolution in particular species." This makes my heart race!
He has a section called "New genes for new animals?", and proceeds to show that, no, it is old genes that are re-used for new animals. He has a deeply interesting chapter on appendages (legs/gills/wings/antennae) showing the genetic relationship of the various instances of these in many vastly different organisms ; and another on how the butterfly got its spots : this is a case where the genetic organising factors are rather simple and have been worked out in detail. Then follows an equally fascinating study of how the zebra got its stripes : the importance of melanism ("Paint it Black!").
Finally he has a chapter on the evolution of the human mind ("The Complex and Subtle Genetic Basis of Human Evolution"). He says: "The discoveries of FOXP2 and MYH16 have generated a great deal of excitement in scientific and medical circles as well as in the general press. But are they the whole story of the development and evolution of jaw musculature and craniofacial form, or of speech and language? Not at all. They are just the beginning."
Carroll is out to explain to us what is really happening. He doesn't simplify! Omitting detail is not the same as simplifying! I love this book for this very reason. I finished it, being deeply informed about the realities of what is going on.
All the way through Carroll's book he is emphasising the surprise of the new discoveries. So on p4 he says, "only very recently have deep answers been discovered, many of them so surprising and profound that they have revolutionised our views of the animal world and our place in it." He talks of "breathtaking" processes, "bombshells", "shattering our previous notions" and so on. For Carroll, beauty in science is much more than skin-deep. The best science is an integrated product of our emotional and intellectual sides.