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Acquiring Genomes: A Theory Of The Origins Of Species Hardcover – June 18, 2002

3.5 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


"One of the most stimulating and provocative books that I have read for a long while." --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Edition edition (June 19, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465043917
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465043910
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #584,114 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert Adler on January 6, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Lynn Margulis has been a maverick all her life. Early in her career she shocked her biological colleagues by arguing that the mitochondria that power our cells and the chloroplasts that let plants transform solar into chemical energy once were free-living bacteria. As soon as scientists could isolate and decode the scraps of DNA in those vital organelles, they found that she was right. Margulis went on to develop her Serial Endosymbiosis Theory, which attempted to trace the development of all creatures with nucleated cells, from yeasts to humans, to a series of genetic mergers between different kinds of organisms. According to Margulis, all the familiar family trees of life, which show only diverging branches, are wrong. Ancient roots and current branches cross and merge to produce new species. To Margulis, nature is far more promiscuous and much more creative than most biologists dream.
Her new book, Acquiring Genomes: A Theory of the Origins of Species, extends and deepens that argument. Margulis sets out to prove that new species rarely if ever appear as the result of mutation, isolation, genetic drift, or population bottlenecks--the meat and potatoes of neo-Darwinism. Instead she maintains that the major engine of evolutionary change, the source of most of the new forms that natural selection edits, is symbiogenesis--the acquisition of whole genomes as the result of symbiotic associations between different kinds of organisms. (Knowing that some people will seize on her thesis as an attack on the theory of evolution as a whole, Margulis makes it clear that she fully supports Darwin's great discovery of the mechanism of natural selection. She simply thinks that neo-Darwinists have failed to recognize the enormous creative power of genomic mergers.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Acquiring Genomes will not appeal to all readers. First of all, the authors clearly have little use for current dogma, that is: local mutations in chromosomes fuel evolution and, particularly, speciation. I received my degree in Zoology back in a time when paleontologists called `em like they saw them, and lock-step conformity was a sign of a weak mind. I learned, in 1975, that there is precious little in the fossil record to support the concept of gradual evolution. Apparently, that has not changed.
Prof. Margulis' book also assumes a reader with a broad scientific background , largely in areas considered "old fashioned" in the 21st century. She demands an upper college level familiarity with invertebrate biology, physiology, microbiology, ultrastructure, biophysical chemistry, metabolic pathways and *GASP* thermodynamics. Then she integrates molecular biology and genomics, as needed, into the picture, to make a very convincing case for symbiogenesis. She also evokes wrath for bringing up the name of Jean Baptiste Lamarck, which is sure to raise a red flag in neodarwinist circles. Last, she does not refute the contribution of neodarwinists, she simply tries to put them in perspective.
The founding premise is that mutations constantly occur during the natural history of a species. Many experiments suggest 99% of these mutations are either silent or deleterious. Therefore, they probably cannot be counted on to drive evolution to improve on a species, let alone create new ones. Instead, a more likely pathway is for two species, with one bacterial, one eucaryotic, to coexist if it causes them to have a survival advantage when they do so.
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Format: Paperback
I have been a somewhat critical fan of Lynn Margulis since the 1970s when I became aware of her as the leading revivalist of the theory of the endosymbiotic orgin of mitochondria and chloroplasts, to which she added her own appealing but unsupported idea of the endosymbiotic origin of flagella (or "undulipodia") from spirochaetes. I share her interest in symbiotic relationships and in the diversity of microbes. I therefore looked forward with both excitement and trepidation to reading Acquiring Genomes, and was not disappointed in either expectation.

The book is full of interesting examples of symbiosis and is worthwhile reading on this basis alone. I was particularly intrigued by the arguments for symbionts in Olenid trilobites and the leaf margin bacteria of Ardisia. I fully agree that symbiogenesis is an important source of evoutionary innovation and that the role of symbiosis in biology is much greater than is generally acknowledged. However, the central thesis that symbiogenesis is the major or exclusive mode of speciation is completely unsupported. I could not find a single example in the book of evidence that a speciation event had occurred as a result of genome acquisition.

This may not be surprising since there was little discussion of what speciation is and how one could know whether a genome acquistion had resulted in speciation. What would prevent the organism acquiring a genome from continuing to interbreed with its conspecifics that lack the genome? Do the authors mean to argue, based on their stated preference for the morphological species concept, that acquiring a genome would result in a new morphological 'species' that interbreeds freely with its ancestral species? But then why do they reject morphological change in Darwin's finches as evidence for speciation?
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