- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (September 17, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393330516
- ISBN-13: 978-0393330519
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 106 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #130,072 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution Reprint Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Picking up where scientists like Richard Dawkins have left off, Carroll, a professor of genetics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo-Devo), has written a fast-paced look at how DNA demonstrates the evolutionary process. Natural selection eliminates harmful changes and embraces beneficial ones, and each change leaves its signature on a species' DNA codes. For example, the Antarctic ice fish today has no red blood cells; yet a fossilized gene for hemoglobin remains in its DNA, showing that the fish has adapted over 55 million years by losing the red blood cells that thicken blood and make it harder to pump in extreme cold. The fish has developed other features that allow it to absorb and circulate blood without hemoglobin. . Carroll points out that by examining the DNA of these ice fish species, it's possible to map its origins as well as the history of the South Atlantic's geology. He also uses dolphins, colobus monkeys and microbes to demonstrate how deeply evolution is etched in DNA. While searches for the genetic basis for evolution are hardly new, Carroll offers some provocative and convincing evidence. 7 pages of color illus.; 50 b&w illus. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Sensing that many people misunderstand evolution or don't believe it, geneticist Carroll here hopes to teach the interested and convince the doubters. He uses popular interest in animals as his lure and selects specific creatures, beginning with bloodless fishes of the Antarctic seas, as stages for his substantive points about evolution. More particularly, Carroll focuses on specific genes carried by his cast of animals to demonstrate natural selection. Carroll considers the animals' most favorable adaptations, preserved in what he calls "immortal genes"; several hundred are common to all domains of life. Carroll then scales up to the macroscopic and considers traits such as color vision in monkeys; the vision and anatomy of fish, including the famous coelacanth; and the sickle-cell trait in humans. In each case, Carroll explains how the DNA code of the gene responsible for the trait is inferred to be the result of natural selection working on mutations, which occur at a steady rate. Here is evolution clearly explained and stoutly defended. REVWR
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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If I'm not giving the book the five stars it actually deserves, it is for three reasons.
Chpt. 9: I find it useless and wasteful of good space. The creationist/ID crowd has not addressed DNA-based evidence, and for good reason. As staunch defenders of law and order they'd more than gladly use DNA to convict a criminal. How could they reject its value for evolution? They conceded this part of the conversation without a fight (or at least Dr. Carroll has not provided DNA-refuting arguments on their part). So, let's be magnanimous, and ignore them - that dead horse has been flogged long enough.
The book's title: "Making of the fittest" harks back to Spencer & Co. Would not "fit" suffice, thereby signifying distance from the social Darwinist crowd, as well as indicating that evolution does not jump to ever higher branches in the "tree of life" (sorry Dr. Darwin, you put the term in belatedly, and unwillingly), but just hops here and there as the conditions of selection change? In the same vein "forensic record" implies judicial truth. Albie SACHS, of the South African Supreme Court, argues, however: "Yet the very notion of judgment presupposes that there is no inevitable outcome. (...) Instead, it seeks to woo the consent of the reader by the persuasiveness of its argument. (p. 142) The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law (0). I'd soft-pedal the recurring "forensic" terminology.
Chpt. 10: There is nothing wrong with the bleak picture of the condition of the sea as presented, except that it is far too rosy, and fragmentary. Ocean acidification has emerged as an (albeit limited-awareness) issue only this century, though its import may by far exceed the impact of many of the horrors that have projected to follow climate change. Gaia, to borrow Lovelock's metaphor, is a sea creature. So if one wants to raise the subject - more than welcome, but it has to be with much more muscle, breadth and depth. In fact it cries out for a whole book.
So instead of these last three somewhat loosely constructed chapters I'd have a final one, tightly recapitulating the logic of arguments in order to impart on readers a well-structured, easily remembered understanding of the arguments. And - if the issue of climate change is to be raised, a student of evolution may wonder why we approach this problem by intelligent design...
Chpt 8 finally I found somewhat confusing, not having read Carroll's prior evo-devo book. There is some loose wording there. So is Pax-6 a gene or a protein; and what are "tool-kit proteins"? One gets the drift, but is soon let adrift in a sea of Drosophila wings.
I decided to reread it when I discovered that it had been released as a Kindle eBook, and to my surprise, my memory has played tricks with me; it isn't very good, it's extremely good. Sean Carroll's arguments for the truth of evolution are just as convincing now as they were then.
One thing that surprised me. In the final chapter, Sean Carroll claims that Michael Behe (whom I've always assumed is one of the more sensible Intelligent Design proponents, although that isn't saying much) stated in "Darwin's Black Box" that the Intelligent Designer (whoever that is) preloaded the first cell 3.8 billion years ago with all the genetic information necessary for subsequent lifeforms as they unfolded. The only other time I have seen this claimed is in Appendix A of Stephen Meyer's dreadful book "Signature in the Cell" where he lists it as one of the 12 'predictions' of ID (actually not; it's one of the predictions that uses 'if' and 'may', the 'prediction' is verified regardless of what occurs). Has anyone read 'Darwin's Black Box' to confirm that Michael Behe wrote something so silly? I don't want to waste my time and money buying his book.
These fossils left in DNA don't tell us whether a supernatural power was responsible or whether nobody was responsible. They don't tell us much about the origin of life. What they do tell us is that it was done over billions of years by the method of natural selection. We know this because the genes subjected to N/S - used, refined by mutations, and reused - are preserved and remain intact, varying only slightly amongst different species. The genes left unused, not subjected to N/S, have been crippled by trails of mutations but their records survive in DNA - relics of the past. Completely essential genes, genes rendered impotent by disuse and mutation, and other categories of genetic material are all available for our leisurely perusal.
With examples not yet in textbooks, Sean Carroll carefully documents these DNA trails of evidence. It's tedious and redundant at times, but the message comes through loud and clear. "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution" - Theodosius Dobzhansky.