From the Author
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.
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 the...read-write 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