Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Book Review

Another good book by Carroll. Making of the fittest explains evolution using the evidence found in the DNA of every creature. Using DNA as evidence, Carroll weaves stories that tie creatures together and spin across millions of years and clearly explains how identical traits have evolved independently(and sometimes repeatedly) by natural selection.
The examples themselves are fascinating - evolution of anti-freeze protein in Artic and Antarctic fishes, color vision through duplication of Opsin genes in birds and primates, sickle cell anemia and resistance to malaria, eye development (an creationist favorite) to skin color in humans. In each case, Carroll explains the genetic changes that the DNA has undergone over the course of time to result in the developmental changes we see.

He has also explained how inaccurate is the creationist insistence that probability of mutations resulting in evolution is next to impossible. He uses very elementary mathematics to explain how advantageous mutations can spread through a population.

Carroll has also tackled head on the problem the US schools are facing now -the disingenuous ID believers who want to teach "creationist science" (which is an oxymoron). Using the Lysenko fiasco as an example, he has clearly illustrated what can happen if there is a deliberate ignorance of evidence.

Unlike Zimmer, reading Carroll does require some basic understanding of biology (high school level at least) but he is an adept writer and worth reading. It is a book aimed at curious people who would like to know more about Evolution and the evidence we have for it. I don't think Creationists or the IDiots are going to change their minds but I hope books like this one convince the fringe dwellers that Evolution is more than a "just" a theory. There are numerous examples of evidences - from geology to now molecular biology- to show how evolution has occurred. As Lewis Black said "We have Fossils. We win."


Revealed said...

Kinda tired of the evolution stuff. There's other stuff that's so much more exciting and interesting in molecular biology, happening as we speak. Seems like evolution is overly hyped!

Sakshi said...

Yes, I would have much rather read a devolpmental biology book by Carroll but that said I am glad that there are scientists like him making an effort to put out books like this one.
With the IDiots out blaring there "Designer" horn, we need to show the common man the facts on which Evolution is based.
And I actually for one never get tired of hearing or reading about evolution at all...but then I am a bio geek :)

Revealed said...

Heh. Well, there's all the Dawkin's books, and The Ancestor's Tale was especially good. There's a couple of Matt Ridley ones, also really good. Throw in some from other random authors and its like everyone's talking about evolution. And while it is important to show the common man the falsity of the IDiots point of view, isn't it just as important to let the common man know what's happening in genetics? And what sorta decisions he'll VERY SOON have to be making?

Sakshi said...

@ Revelead - There are other books out there that talk about something other than evolution. And I hope that after Summer I will write more on those :)
But the point is that despite all the evidence, majority of people in the US don't believe in Evolution. So it is important to put out books like these and to promote them :)

Born a Libran said...

@revealed,sakshi: I am a firm believer of the maxim "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution" - Theodosius Dobzhansky.

If studied in the right manner, I believe that evolution could be a useful analysis tool, which could reduce the work required to prove something in molecular biology, systems biology, developmental biology, etc. Evolution by itself is a fascinating subject. But how many of these books go into details such as the various mechanisms for point mutations and indels in proteins/RNA molecules? Even more complicated and leading to a faster pace of evolution would be horizontal gene transfer and how it takes place. There are so many secrets lurking in evolution (and can be answered now that sequencing a microbial genome can take place in a week or so) that it might not be a bad idea to inspire a few people to study it.

On the other side of the spectrum, how many biology books explain how evolution helps in a problem, except perhaps, having a chapter on it?

Having said that, I have had most of my education in evolution through research papers and not books because I have not found the right book to date for that.

Sakshi said...

@BaL -I think you will find that it is difficult to write such books (as you are looking for) with a common man in mind. Even Carroll's book was a bit hard for my friend (he is from the Comp Sc background) and I think it was way too simple :)
But Carroll's has actually used DNA - mutations and duplications to show how Natural selection occurs in this book, so it is a beginning step.
I agree that nothing in Nature makes sense unless you look at it from an evolutionary perspective. But if people disbelief that foundation itself, then we (people in science) should do what Carroll, Zimmer and Dawkins are doing - talk and drive home the point.
For everything else there is always Pubmed.

Revealed said...

'For everything else there is always Pubmed'
You never said a truer word.
@BaL: Yeah, its true that evolution is a central dogma par excellence, but lets not forget that molecular biology is a science all in itself. And evolution relies heavily on molecular biology to prove itself. So its all back scratching as far as I'm concerned. Agree with you about horiz gene transfer etc. I believe that the common man CAN understand it if only its explained properly.

atma_tripta said...

Guys correct me if I my logic is flawed in any of these arguments I had with an IDiot.

Its funny how they try to put specious arguments...For one he was trying to prove that evolution was based on false basis by claiming that the composition of gases used in the famous experiment simulating the early earth atmosphere was wrong. When I pointed out that evolution does not deal with origin of life itself (IS THIS RIGHT? I made it up on the spot that day :) ), another claim was made that carbon dating was wrong prove the age of fossils was not what it is projected to be! As another friend pointed out, trying to prove evolution wrong does not make ID/creationism right.

Further the discussion went on towards how the picture that shows the similarity between different animals, fishes and birds during the embryonic stage allegedly was made up...

As I see it, making belief in creationism a corner stone of (a?) religious faith has led to this irrefutably stupid reasonings by IDiots. I dont see why I have to believe in creationism as opposed to evolution to be religious.

Thanks for this review..I will get my copy to read ASAP!

Sakshi said...

@ Atma Tripta - You were right in asserting that evolution does not make any claims about origin of life. The carbon dating is an excuse that has been bandied about so long.. it is pitiful :) It is erraneous but they (the whole creationists gang) believe that geology is flawed - I mean anyone who has read the good book knows that the earth is only 5000 years old :)
The embryonic picture is false. But it was corrected by scientist themselves. However if one looks at the embryo at the Pharyngula stage acroos species, then they do look awefully similar. But now with the power of sequencing, we can actually dispensse with physiological similarities and go to the heart of the matter - the genes or DNA record themselves to help us understand evolution.
And I agree religion (even Christianity) is not uncompatible with science of any kind - unless you are fundamentalist at heart. Then there is nothing that can be done about it ..

Revealed said...

@sakshi: mebbe ur right after all and these books have to be published :P

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