LJ Reviews 2018 March #2
With recent discoveries in molecular biology, life is beginning to look very different. In particular, horizontal gene transfer (HGT), the movement of genes across species lines, appears to be a significant aspect of evolution; about eight percent of the human genome derives not from inheritance but viral infection, a type of HGT. One consequence: the ascendance of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which threatens human health today, is a direct result of HGT. From the winner of the NYPL/Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism and a National Book Critics Circle finalist for Spillover.
Copyright 2018 Library Journal.
LJ Reviews 2018 June #2
Author and journalist Quammen (Spillover) leads readers on a winding journey in search of the genetic heritage of life on earth. He introduces scientists who have been at the forefront of the research and keeps the story engaging by discussing not only their theories but their personalities and professional disputes. The title alludes to the discovery that Darwin's tree of life is no longer an accurate depiction. By using molecular phylogenetics, a method of studying the deep history of life in molecules of DNA, RNA, and some proteins, scientists have discovered that the human genome is a mosaic. By means of HGT (horizontal gene transfer), all life with cells holding DNA in the nucleus may have received genetic material from viruses, bacteria, and an ancient life form only recently discovered, archaea. In other words, genes can pass through species boundaries. For example, the modern human genome shows evidence of having been hybridized by Neanderthal and chimp ancestors as well as endogenous retroviruses. Scientists are at the beginning of understanding the implications of these discoveries for human health. VERDICT Written in an accessible style, this book will interest biologists, geneticists, and those curious about evolutionary history.—Caren Nichter, Univ. of Tennessee at Martin
Copyright 2018 Library Journal.
PW Reviews 2018 May #1
Science writer Quammen (The Song of the Dodo), as he has so often done before, explores important questions and makes the process as well as the findings understandable and exciting to lay readers. Here, he delves into the field of molecular phylogenetics, the process of "reading the deep history of life and the patterns of relatedness from the sequence of constituent units in certain long molecules," namely "DNA, RNA, and a few select proteins." Although the topic might seem arcane, he brings it to life by profiling many of the field's most important players, including microbiologists Carl Woese and Ford Doolittle, and demonstrating how it has changed "the way scientists understand the shape of the history of life." The breakthroughs Quammen describes include Woese's classification of the archaea, a new category of living creatures made up of single-celled microorganisms, and Doolittle's insight, recounted in an interview with the author, that genes can be transferred horizontally, between organisms (and not always closely related organisms) rather than simply between parent and offspring. The cumulative effect is to transform Darwin's famous image of evolution as a straightforwardly branching "tree of life" into a "tangle of rising and crossing and diverging and converging limbs." This book also proves its author's mastery in weaving various strands of a complex story into an intricate, beautiful, and gripping whole. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (Aug.)
Copyright 2018 Publishers Weekly.