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The Evolution Explosion: How Humans Cause Rapid Evolutionary Change Paperback – August 17, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0393323382 ISBN-10: 0393323382 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (August 17, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393323382
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393323382
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #877,991 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The first thing that Harvard University biology professor Stephen Palumbi wants you to know is that evolution is a fact, not a theory. The second is this: evolution does not require eons and eons to make its effects manifest. By tinkering with genes and rewriting the laws of natural selection, we humans have lately been "accelerating the evolutionary game, especially among the species that live with us most intimately"--not our pets, that is to say, but the food we eat, the pests that share that food, and the diseases that visit us.

Almost all of this accelerated evolution--which, as in the pointed case of the human immunodeficiency virus, occurs faster than we can track it--is an unintended, accidental consequence of some well-intentioned effort to improve human life by sidestepping nature. One such consequence is the growing incidence of drug-resistant bacteria and viruses, which have mutated to survive antibiotic treatments to the point that postoperative infections from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus now pose a major threat to hospitals. Another is the arrival of pests that have evolved to survive pesticides of many kinds, pests that threaten crops around the world in a time of ever-increasing scarcity. All this, Palumbi writes, is "evolution with teeth," and such responses to our hapless prompting make humans the most potent evolutionary form the planet has ever known. Whether we can survive our own power to reshape the earth remains a question. But, Palumbi concludes, ideas evolve, too, so that we can hope against hope to think our way back to more or less normal cycles of evolutionary change. Well-written and provocative, his book makes for a useful start. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

While some human beings stubbornly refuse to accept the fact that evolution is synonymous with life on Earth, others, such as Harvard biologist Palumbi, try valiantly to explain evolution's astonishing intricacies in order to reveal how our species is "upping the evolutionary ante and accelerating the evolutionary game." The example that hits closest to home is Palumbi's account of how various disease-causing bacteria have rapidly evolved strains resistant to antibiotics, the miracle drugs that briefly seemed to have eradicated such scourges as TB, but are now ineffectual against a host of frightening infections. The war against insects is another arena in which evolutionary wiliness has trumped humankind's efforts at controlling nature: insect species resistant to insecticides now abound. Palumbi's writing is lively and lucid, and his analogies are felicitous. His enlightening discussions of the evolution of HIV, the ecological dangers posed by precipitous bioengineering, and such remarkable evolutionary phenomena as the changes in size and spawning strategies of fish in overfished regions give weight and urgency to his call for evolution literacy. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By David Liscio on July 23, 2001
Format: Hardcover
"The Evolution Explosion" by Stephen R. Palumbi, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 2001.
By David Liscio
Anyone seeking an eloquent explanation of recent evolution as it relates to human impact -- from the use of herbicides, pesticides and antibiotics to AIDS treatment and genetic manipulation -- should find "The Evolution Explosion" a worthwhile read.
Harvard University biology professor Dr. Stephen R. Palumbi has written what is essentially a text on fast-paced evolution, in a style more akin to travel and adventure books, yet packed with scientific detail.
From the start, he explains that the task is "to bring home the equally common impact of evolution on daily life - and not through eclectic recourse to scientific theory or historical anecdote. Instead, I need to do it through examples about how evolution in the world around us matters." To make his point, Palumbi refers to the fertile soils of Kansas that "are part of the everyday life of millions of people - and billions of insects and weeds. And evolution lives among the fields and stalks the checkbooks of struggling farmers - here, like everywhere else, living in the many weed and insect species that have evolved resistance to pesticides." Palumbi notes that as long ago as 1954, a young Paul Ehrlich studied the impact of DDT and evolution of flies that would survive and resist the deadly chemical. As the author explains, Ehrlich's famous work, "The Population Bomb," is partially a result of "the DDT dustings (Ehrlich) and his future wife endured at drive-in movie theaters during Kansas' aborted attempt at mosquito eradication."
Consider this: American troops during WWII dusted themselves and civilians with a white powder.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 23, 2001
Format: Hardcover
It has become clear over the last few decades that evolution can take place much more rapidly than Darwin ever imagined. The evolution of the AIDS virus is a particularly compelling case in point, and one of the focal points of this engaging book about how our efforts to control our world can bring about unwanted evolutionary change over time periods measured not in millennia, but in weeks and months. Mostly it is microbial evolution that Harvard Professor of Biology Stephen Palumbi writes about, the AIDS virus, the bacteria that cause tuberculosis, staph and other infections, but also insects and plants, particularly the insects that eat crops and the plants we call weeds, and even fish. At the center of change is the "evolutionary engine" that is continually at work adjusting organisms to their environments. Change the environment of a creature and the creature changes to keep its fit, a never-ending phenomenon that frustrates our efforts to eradicate harmful pests and deadly diseases.
Palumbi shows how it is not enough to spray our fields of amber grain with pesticides because the pests will inevitably evolve to flourish in the new pesticide-filled environment. It is not enough to throw antibiotics at the bacteria that invade our bodies because they too will evolve to flourish. Our efforts to combat the scourges of field and body are now seen as just one half of the prey/predator, parasite/host phenomenon of co-evolution. As Palumbi phrases it, "The disease dance continues, turning to the evolutionary tune, and both players must step smartly." (p. 90) We must take the power of life forms to evolve rapidly into account, and realize that they will react to our efforts.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By "ahoude" on January 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a great read. Steven Palumbi shows everyone why evolution matters today in real and meaning ful ways.
Two quotes from the book
".. the best education is the one that bites back, the one that shows with clarity of glacial ice that the facts and principles of the scientific world are of crucial importance to every day life.... not through eclectic recourse to scientific theory or historical anecdote. Instead, I need to do it through examples about how evolution in the world around us matters."
And why does it matter: " And if antibiotic resistance just happens, then we have no notion of how it comes to be, and no real chance to block the rise of some of the world's deadliest forms of life. But if something evolves, then the science of evolution can chart the answer to why, and perhaps prevent or change it."
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Format: Hardcover
Not everyone believes that evolution occurs, even though examples exist all around us (such as antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria). Recent studies show us that the evolution that took millions in years in the geological record now happens in months or years. What's changed? Basically, human intervention into the biological environment is becoming the driving force for evolution on earth. This outstanding book outlines this process, and argues that the process will only speed up in the future as ideas develop faster and proliferate more rapidly. Learning how to manage evolution to our benefit is our next key challenge. It is even more important than genetic engineering, because that field will trigger much inintended evolution (as it already has).
The book begins with a trip to Hawaii to rescue some rare snails for captive breeding. Along the way, many examples of human-driven evolution are observed. From there, Professor Palumbi looks at the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These strains arise in 1 to 36 years after a new antibiotic is released. Historically, it seems that bacteria tried to kill other bacteria in similar ways, so there are genetic variation escape hatches. He points out that using multiple antiobiotics can be an effective strategy for avoiding this problem. On the other hand, many diseases once thought to be under control {like tuberculosis) are on the rise again.
The HIV story is much more complex and interesting. HIV uniquely evolves in each body it invades. A better solution may be to encourage HIV to evolve in harmless ways rather than to kill it.
New bioengineered plants try to poison insects with genetic alterations. Unless farmers keep low-yield refuges, this will simply create poison-resistant insects and pests.
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