- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; First Edition edition (June 11, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0465043925
- ISBN-13: 978-0465043927
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8.1 inches
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- Average Customer Review: 40 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #748,517 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Acquiring Genomes: A Theory Of The Origin Of Species Paperback – International Edition, June 17, 2003
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A challenger of the orthodox "neo-Darwinist" interpretation of evolution, microbiologist Margulis has made her professional mark touting an alternative: symbiogenesis. She and coauthor (and son) Sagan have presented their ideas in earlier popular works (What Is Life?, 1995), but never as vigorously as in this volume. Essentially, the debate between neo-Darwinists and Margulis hinges on the definition of a species, and the manner in which a new one appears. To Margulis and Sagan, the neo-Darwinist model, which asserts random gene mutation as the source of inherited variations, is "wildly overemphasized," and to support their view, they delve deeply into the world of microbes. They detail the anatomy of cells with and without nuclei, positing a process of genome ingestion that creates a new species. Surprisingly, the upshot of Margulis' theories is the rehabilitation of Jean Baptiste de Lamarck, whose theory that supposedly acquired traits are hereditary has been ridiculed for 150 years. Polemical and provocative, Margulis and Sagan's work should set many to thinking that evolution has not yet been completely figured out. Gilbert Taylor
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"One of the most stimulating and provocative books that I have read for a long while."
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Perhaps the most notable features of “Acquiring Genomes” is the rather dominate tone the authors use to challenge the basic and over simplified concepts of evolutions. For example, the word “species” is mainly used to describe morphological differences, but the problem arises when two similar animals, like coyotes and dogs, mate and do not produce fully fertile offspring. Therefore organisms that can interbreed belong in the same species, but this only applied to zoologist and botanist. The authors do state that this definition should actually be renamed “zoological-botanical concepts of species”.
The authors passionately go on about evolution and how everyone who studies biology is a Darwinist. They do sat that there is a difference between neodarwinism and Darwinist, such as natural selection. Natural selection is a way to express the concept that most life does not persist through time, the authors state that is essentially “differential survival”. This differential survival lead into inherited variation can help the organisms, which Darwin wrote that “only variation that is inherited is important for “decent with modification”’.
The reason that the definition of species only works for plants and animals is because they are embryo forming, which need fusion of an egg with sperm. Professional evolutionary theorist tend to have ignored microbiology, paleontology and symbiosis even though life originated with bacteria. Bacteria exchange genetic material with multiple recipients. Bacteria can even uptake DNA material from the surroundings. Individuality doesn’t come exclusively from diversification and branching like neodarwinist believe but also comes from integration and differentiation, such as species by symbiogenisis. According to the authors it is the creative force of symbiosis that produced eukaryotic cells from bacteria.
An example of eukaryotic and prokaryotic symbiosis is V. fischeri and the Hawaiian bobtail squid. These squid hatch from their eggs without the bacteria, but soon the bacterial inhabit the squid’s underdeveloped light organ through occupying crypts. With the bacteria, the light organ develop and allow the symbiosis to commence. Within 4 days, a death signal kills epithelial cells of the ciliated surface and the welcome organ is gone. Bacterial genes that code for “adhesion” promotes the light organs maintenance. The bacteria gets food and protection while the squid gets camouflage through the bioluminescent of the bacteria which generates the same color, intensity and angular distribution as moonlight. The bioluminescence the bacteria emits allows the Hawaiian bobtail squid to blend in the ocean at night avoided predators.
This book wasn’t an easy read because of the complicated concepts of biology and evolution, which I would recommend to a reader who is familiar with the subject. This book did do a good job on laying out the purpose of pushing the limits of evolution, but is was confusing as some part of the book seemed to have come from nowhere, such as the explanation on chromosomes. The book lacks the ability of continuity and transitioning from subject to subject smoothly, regardless it does try to display the information as easy as it an by being broad about evolution and speciation in the beginning.
It was refreshing to read the immense passion the authors had on the subject of evolution as their bias for certain words were apparent. The authors talk about “competition” and its misuse in evolution. According to them, competition has no place in describing evolution because competition implies a mutual understanding of a winner and loose. The author fails to acknowledge that when first teaching evolution, simple term are used to help learner understand the concept of evolution. In the wild, the winner is the organism that survives and the loser is the one that dies. Over all, this book pushed readers to think beyond the accepted thinking for evolution and truly question the evolutionary theory.
She was not properly honoured for this insight, which is an enduring shame, for which the profession should apologize. Reading Thomas Kuhn should have provided her some solace, and the realisation that a profession battling creationist dogmas could not let go of its own dogma without "loss of face".
Alas, in this book she grossly overstates her case - and destroys her credibility. Not only is the argument inadequate, but the acid, rambling, digressive and aggressive style does her good case great disservice. It is tragic to see a good case self-destruct.
The issue is not - and I emphasise NOT - whether symbiogenesis occurs. That this is so to me is obvious. The issue is whether symbiogenesis is the ONLY source of evolutionary innovation. The author states this repeatedly, particularly in the first part of the book. And here she is wrong.
If a "species" is composed of all beings that are composed of precisely the same set of symbionts (pg. 142), then symbiogenesis should occur every time a new species arises. The cells of each new species should show evidence of this process, either in form of a new chimera, or by incorporation of a new genome somewhere in the old set. This Dr. Margulis fails to show. If we take as a point of departure than homo sapiens sapiens is 97% the same genome as apes, which are "new genomes" that were acquired on the way - and not just once, but 5-7 times at least over the last million years? Furthermore, if she postulates a mechanism for acquisition, she better have one for shedding genomes that are no longer useful. Alas, "de-acquiring" does not appear in her text. Yet, if the only way to change is to acquire, either we have a portentous "chain of being" or genomes have been shed along the way. It would make sense: if two is bliss and three is a crowd, recurrent symbiogenesis would soon tear the chimera apart. Which may be the reason why symbiogenesis might less frequent nowadays - and overlooked when generalising from mammals.
Another way to look at it is to think in terms of frequency of occurrence. Given that there are several million species alive, and many more dead, symbiogenesis should have occurred on a time scale of what, one hundred thousand years (there were 5-7 species on the way to homo sapiens sapiens). The examples Dr. Margulis presents (the eukariotes, multicellular structures) are changes that may have occurred on a timescale of hundred of millions of years. Dr. Margulis quotes Dr. Williamson (pg. 166) to indicate that "successful matings between distantly related animals occurred (...) roughly once in 10 million years" - and this strictly among the lower orders. So the timescale seems wrong.
Yes, symbiogenesis is probably the most important evolutionary process, at work when big evolutionaryjumps, like the emergence of new phyla or taxa arise, but not the most common source, or the one most active today, or among the more complex orders. It is quite possible that it was predominant in the past and among the less complex orders, petering out as we move on. Dr. Williamson is probably closer to the mark in arguing that genome transfers are superimposed on "descent with modification" (pg. 166). There is nothing to preclude parallelism and/or succession of selective processes over time.
This could have been a great book, had Dr. Margulis had the courage of her own convictions and attempted to portray an evolution of evolutionary processes, with symbiogenesis maybe at dawn of life, yielding or being enriched by other forms during the evolutionary day, when coming to more complex organisms. By going to the other extreme of claiming exclusivity for symbiogenesis Dr. Margulis performs a useful function nevertheless: to bracket the diversity of evolutionary processes, so we can better see and explore the range of options and their succession over time.
As for the evolutionary dogmatists, they should see plurality of evolutionary mechanisms as strength, rather than a weakness in their argument against creationists. For by arguing from monocausality they implicitly espouse and confirm the principle of some kind of "design" uniqueness - albeit with an opposite sign. Nature will not be constrained to just one method, and will glory only and fully in "anything goes". Life is messiness - that is what makes it so much fun.