Improbable Destinies : Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution
by Jonathan B. Losos


Overview - A major new book overturning our assumptions about how evolution works

Earth's natural history is full of fascinating instances of convergence: phenomena like eyes and wings and tree-climbing lizards that have evolved independently, multiple times.  Read more...


 
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More About Improbable Destinies by Jonathan B. Losos
 
 
 
Overview
A major new book overturning our assumptions about how evolution works

Earth's natural history is full of fascinating instances of convergence: phenomena like eyes and wings and tree-climbing lizards that have evolved independently, multiple times. But evolutionary biologists also point out many examples of contingency, cases where the tiniest change--a random mutation or an ancient butterfly sneeze--caused evolution to take a completely different course. What role does each force really play in the constantly changing natural world? Are the plants and animals that exist today, and we humans ourselves, inevitabilities or evolutionary flukes? And what does that say about life on other planets?

Jonathan Losos reveals what the latest breakthroughs in evolutionary biology can tell us about one of the greatest ongoing debates in science. He takes us around the globe to meet the researchers who are solving the deepest mysteries of life on Earth through their work in experimental evolutionary science. Losos himself is one of the leaders in this exciting new field, and he illustrates how experiments with guppies, fruit flies, bacteria, foxes, and field mice, along with his own work with anole lizards on Caribbean islands, are rewinding the tape of life to reveal just how rapid and predictable evolution can be.

Improbable Destinies will change the way we think and talk about evolution. Losos's insights into natural selection and evolutionary change have far-reaching applications for protecting ecosystems, securing our food supply, and fighting off harmful viruses and bacteria. This compelling narrative offers a new understanding of ourselves and our role in the natural world and the cosmos.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780399184925
  • ISBN-10: 0399184929
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • Publish Date: August 2017
  • Page Count: 384
  • Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds


Related Categories

Books > Science > Life Sciences - Evolution
Books > Science > Life Sciences - Zoology - General
Books > Science > Life Sciences - Biology

 
BookPage Reviews

New discoveries in the origin of species

Every now and then a brilliant book comes along that helps us rethink what we know about a subject. Jonathan B. Losos’ fascinating, compulsively readable Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution is just such a book; it offers an opportunity for us to ponder the process of evolution, the questions that have fueled recent debates and the extent to which evolutionary biology can be confirmed through experimentation.

Harvard biologist Losos raises two key questions that lie at the heart of conversations about evolution: Is it predictable? Or is it contingent? These questions spiral into more queries: If the process of natural selection and adaptation takes place slowly over time—as scientists traditionally believed—can we really observe it and reach provable conclusions? Can we conduct large field experiments that would give us insights into evolution?

Drawing on his own experiments with lizards, as well as on the research of others in the Galapagos, Losos illustrates that the pace of evolutionary change is not glacial, and that evolutionary change can be observed over a relatively short time. He also concludes that convergence—in which species living in similar environments will adapt similar features—has emerged as a challenge to those scientists who argue that evolution is unpredictable, random and nonrepeatable. Losos demonstrates that “the contingencies of history play a minor role, their effects erased by the predictable push of natural selection.”

With vivacious writing and thoughtful, provocative insights, Losos’ captivating study of evolution deserves to be read alongside the books of E.O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth) and Stephen Jay Gould (Wonderful Life).

 

This article was originally published in the August 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

 
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