Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life

I loved this book, "The Tangled Tree - A Radical New History of Life" by David Quammen.  He explains how recent discoveries in molecular biology affect our understanding of evolution and life’s history.

The site, 'Politics and Prose' states "Darwin famously described evolution as an elegantly branching tree of life. But as scientists have pursued molecular phylogenetics—the process of "reading the deep history of life and the patterns of relatedness” from DNA sequences—they’ve found that nature is more complicated, that life’s branches cross and converge and tangle in previously unsuspected ways. Quammen explains how the study of DNA led to the key discovery of horizontal gene transfer: that genes can be transmitted between organisms that aren’t parent and offspring; outlines its implications; and profiles the lives and work of its principal researchers, including Carl Woese, Lynn Margulis, and Tsutomu Watanabe."

The Wall Street Journal reports that “David Quammen proves to be an immensely well-informed guide to a complex story and explains how molecular studies of evolution have brought startling recognitions about the tangled tree of life—including where we humans fit upon it. Thanks to new technologies, we now have the ability to alter even our genetic composition—through sideways insertions, as nature has long been doing. T

he Boston Globe reports “The Tangled Tree is a source of wonder….Quammen has written a deep and daring intellectual adventure”

This concept of horizontal gene transfer was a stunning eye opener for me. It was as if I stumbled on a missing puzzle piece of how life came together. It was as if I had been operating on the old and incomplete science of yesteryear which were still filled with unanswered questions hanging in the rafters of my mind. The book updated my concepts of biology and gene transfer and some missing puzzle piece snapped into place. A new big mental picture emerged and it was breathtaking.

I began my read using the audio version of the book, which is read by Jacques Roy, who can pronounce all those scientific names and make it sound like a love story. But soon I realized there were probably images in the book I didn't have, so I added the printed book so I could review and assess all those different biological trees that are mentioned in the story.

The book explains the molecular studies of evolution. If you like that sort of thing, I think you will find this book fascinating, too.