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Evolution: A View from the 21st Century (FT Press Science) 1st Edition

43 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0132780933
ISBN-10: 0132780933
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Editorial Reviews

From the Author

Most debates about evolution sound like the last fifty years of research in molecular biology had never occurred. Evolution: A View from the 21st Century aims to acquaint the reader with previously "inconceivable" but currently well-documented aspects of cell biology and genomics. This knowledge will prepare the reader for the inevitable surprises in evolutionary science as this new century runs its course. 

The capacity of living organisms to alter their own heredity is undeniable, and our current ideas about evolution have to incorporate this basic fact of life. The genome is no longer the read-only memory (ROM) system subject to accidental changes envisaged by conventional theory. We now understand genomes to be read-write (RW) information storage organelles at all time scales, from the single cell cycle to evolutionary eons. 

The contemporary concept of living organisms as self-modifying beings coincides with the shift in biology from a mechanistic to an information- and systems-based view of vital functions. The life sciences have converged with other disciplines to focus on questions of acquiring, processing and transmitting information to ensure the correct operation of complex adaptive systems.  

Today, we endeavor to understand how new vital capacities arose in the course of evolution during at least 3.5 billion tumultuous years of earth history. Two broad lines of research have made it possible to formulate a new vision of the evolutionary process. One examines how cells regulate the expression, reproduction, transmission and restructuring of their DNA molecules. The other comprises advances in studying interspecific hybridization, symbiogenesis, epigenetics, horizontal DNA transfer and mobile genetic elements. 21st Century evolution science explains abrupt events in the DNA and fossil records. Moreover, this contemporary mode of thinking makes it possible to envisage realistic paths to complex evolutionary innovations.

Additional online material for this book can be found at and

From the Back Cover

“Shapiro has written a stimulating, innovative manuscript that surely Darwin would have liked.”

Sidney Altman, Yale University; Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, 1989


“Based on a long and highly competent personal experience in science and his novel insights into biological functions, the author has reached views of biological evolution that can reveal to a wide, interested readership how the living world co-evolves with the environment through its intrinsic powers.”

Werner Arber, Professor Emeritus, University of Basel, Switzerland; Nobel Laureate in Physiology/Medicine, 1978


“Professor Shapiro’s offering is the best book on basic modern biology I have ever seen. As far as I can tell, the book is a game changer.”

Carl Woese, University of Illinois; discoverer of Archaea, the third realm of life; National Medal of Science 2000


“‘[N]atural genetic engineering’ explains evolutionary processes that preceded people by at least 3,000 million years. Shapiro’s detailed account of ubiquitous genetic dynamism, DNA machination, repair, and recombination in real life, bacterial to mammalian, destroys myths.... Shapiro’s careful, authoritative narrative is entirely scientific and should interest all of us who care about the evolution of genetic systems.”

Lynn Margulis, University of Massachusetts, Amherst; National Academy of Sciences, National Medal of Science 1999


“[T]his book is a magnificent analysis of the key questions of the origin of variation.... Jim Shapiro has new insights on all the central issues of evolutionary theory. The genome becomes a read-write storage system rather than the sole determinant of heredity. After reading this book, you will find it imperative to see biology as the 21st century is coming to see it.”

Denis Noble, CBE FRS, Balliol College, Oxford; author of The Music of Life


“This book highlights...dynamic systems biology and engineering between the evolving genome, cell, and environmental stresses...affecting memory system underlying life’s evolution.”

Eviatar Nevo, University of Haifa, U.S. National Academy of Sciences; explorer of Evolution Canyon


James Shapiro’s Evolution: A View from the 21st Century proposes an important new science-based paradigm for understanding biological evolution. Shapiro explains how conventional evolutionary theory (as elaborated from the neo-Darwinian synthesis) has become outdated, and he marshals new molecular genetics and DNA sequence evidence to reinterpret fundamental evolutionary processes.


Shapiro’s new information- and systems-based paradigm integrates important phenomena such as symbiogenesis, epigenetics, and natural genetic engineering. He demonstrates how active cell processes can drive the rapid, large evolutionary changes seen in the DNA that cannot be adequately explained by earlier theories.


Evolution: A View from the 21st Century is likely to generate extensive discussion throughout the biological community and might change your own thinking about how life has evolved. Shapiro’s vision also has major implications for evolutionary computation, information science, and the growing synthesis of physical and biological sciences.


Living cells: evolution’s not-so-blind watchmakers
How cells acquire and use external information–and what that means for evolution


Cellular read-write mechanisms and informatics-based approaches

Cell-mediated genome inscriptions at time scales ranging from days to epochs


Nature’s leaps: beyond Linnaeus and Darwin

The growing molecular evidence for rapid, large-scale, evolutionary change


A new conceptual basis for 21st century evolutionary research

Discovering how evolutionary innovation is generated, dispersed, and diversified


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Product Details

  • Series: FT Press Science
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: FT Press; 1 edition (June 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0132780933
  • ISBN-13: 978-0132780933
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,247,740 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James A. Shapiro is Professor of Microbiology at the University of Chicago. He has a BA in English Literature from Harvard (1964) and a PhD in Genetics from Cambridge (1968). William Hayes was his PhD supervisor, and Sydney Brenner was an unofficial adviser during his time in Cambridge as a Marshall Scholar.
His thesis, The Structure of the Galactose Operon in Escherichia coli K12, contains the first suggestion of transposable elements in bacteria. He confirmed this hypothesis in 1968 during his postdoctoral tenure as a Jane Coffin Childs fellow in the laboratory of Francois Jacob at the Institut Pasteur in Paris. The following year, as an American Cancer Society fellow in Jonathan Beckwith's laboratory at Harvard Medical School, he and his colleagues used in vivo genetic manipulations to clone and purify the lac operon of E. coli, an accomplishment that received international attention.
In 1979, Prof. Shapiro formulated the first precise molecular model for transposition and replication of phage Mu and other transposons. In 1984, he published the first case study of what is now called "adaptive mutation." He found that selection stress triggers a tremendous increase in the frequency of Mu-mediated fusions, Together with Pat Higgins in 1989, he showed that activation of Mu replication and transposition is spatially organized in bacterial colonies. Since 1992, he has been writing about the importance of biologically regulated natural genetic engineering as a fundamental new concept in evolution science.
Together with Ahmed Bukhari and Sankhar Adhya, Prof. Shapiro organized the first conference on DNA insertion elements in May, 1976, at Cold Spring Harbor laboratory. He is editor of DNA Insertion Elements, Episomes and Plasmids (1977 with Bukhari and Adhya), Mobile Genetic Elements (1983), and Bacteria as Multicellular Organisms (1997 with Martin Dworkin).
From 1980 until her death in 1992, Prof. Shapiro maintained a close scientific and personal friendship with Barbara McClintock, whom he credits with opening his eyes to new ways of thinking about science in general and evolution in particular. Prof. Shapiro has been a leading scientific critic of orthodox evolutionary theory for 20 years.
Following a teaching stint at the University of Havana (1970-1972) and research at Brandeis (1972-1973), Prof. Shapiro moved to a faculty position at the University of Chicago in 1973. He has been there since then with occasional sabbaticals and visting professor appointments at the Institut Pasteur, Tel Aviv University, Cambridge University and the University of Edinburgh, where he was the Darwin Prize Visiting Professor in 1993. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, the AAAS and the Linnean Society of London. In 2001, he received an honorary O.B.E. from Queen Elizabeth for services to higher education in the UK and US.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

76 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Frank Harold on July 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The history of life is peppered with novelties, functional and adaptive features never seen before. Eyes to see with come to mind, and wings to fly with; so do the seeds of flowering plants, the intricate cilia that move eukaryotic cells, and a thousand others. How do innovations arise? This is the question addressed in this book, and there can be few issues more crucial to our understanding of evolution.

The conventional answer was formulated seventy years ago as part of the Modern Synthesis, which melded Darwin's insights from natural history with the rising science of population genetics. It invokes a static genome composed of discrete heritable genes that are subject to variation by mutation and other accidents; the variations are then culled by natural selection, with the result that adaptation of the organism improves. Evolution takes place slowly and gradually, by small random steps. The fossil record displays many instances, the classic one being the transformation of horses' toes. But skeptics have questioned this scenario from the beginning, arguing that there cannot have been time enough to bring forth the profusion of biological novelty, and in any event random mutations are more likely to degrade organization than to create it. Such doubts have been reinforced in recent years by our growing knowledge of how genomes are constructed and how they operate. James Shapiro puts himself squarely on the side of the skeptics, and offers an alternative vision that he dubs "natural genetic engineering".

Briefly, the architecture of genomes turned out quite unlike what had been expected. In higher organisms, at least, genes are composed of both coding and non-coding sequences, and must be spliced prior to expression.
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73 of 83 people found the following review helpful By Perry Marshall on June 29, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Evolution: A View from the 21st Century" is the first book with an accurate depiction of evolutionary processes. To my knowledge, it has not been possible to buy a book that gave you the whole story. Most mechanisms described here were first discovered decades ago. Yet until now, few people knew anything about them.

This book describes:

-"Natural Genetic Engineering" refers to cells' innate ability to re-organize their genomes in response to hundreds of kinds of inputs. This is the star of the show. Not natural selection.

-Horizontal Gene Transfer, cells exchanging segments of DNA to instantly gain new features;

-Inter-species hybridization - new species form when unlikely mates cross from two different species;

-Symbiogenesis, when separate organisms physically merge to form a new species;

-Epigenetics, shaping heredity without altering the DNA sequence;

-Whole Genome Duplication - DNA doubling to expand "hard drive space" and make room for novel features.

Others have grasped at these mysteries with varying degrees of success. "The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin's Dilemma" by Kirschner and Gerhart note how evolution re-uses the same components and processes. But they fall short of recognizing how this is done.

Suzan Mazur's "The Altenberg 16: An Exposé of the Evolution Industry" offers a kaleidoscope of evolutionary ideas but doesn't reach a conclusion. Fodor's "What Darwin Got Wrong" makes good on its title but offers no alternative. Margulis' and Sagan's "Acquiring Genomes" offers a vital puzzle piece, Symbiogenesis, but could have gone much further.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
There have been four major revolutions in the understanding of inheritance and evolution: First, the Mendelian revolution, which explained how characteristics of organisms might be passed on to successive generations. Second, the Darwinian, which described the process of speciation, and the idea of selection within a gene pool. Third was the discovery of DNA, and unless you're a biologist, that's probably as far as your knowledge goes.

But in the years since Watson's and Crick's description of the double helix of DNA have seen an explosion in the understanding of genetics and evolution that is perhaps even more far reaching than the three previous revolutions combined. The idea of gradual evolution, with natural selection paring away at a set of random mutations has been overthrown in favor of a much more active, one might almost say goal-seeking mechanism, in which organisms play an active role in shaping their evolution.

Consider the case of drug immunity in bacteria. The old story goes something like this: You dose a colony of bacteria with penicillin, killing off 99.99% of them, but then remaining 0.01% carries with it an immunity to penicillin. They replicate and pass this immunity on to their offspring, creating a new colony of penicillin resistant bacteria. You now dose this regrown colony with amoxycillin, killing off 99.99%, and the remaining fraction reproduce, and then you use streptomycin and so on and so on, each time regenerating the community with the new immunity.

There's a serious problem with this story. How can immunity to all possible antibiotics be carried somewhere in the colony?
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