For the last three billion years or so, life on Earth has been shaped by natural forces. Evolution happens slowly, with species crafted by natural selection across millennia. Then, a few hundred thousand years ago, along came a bolshie, big-brained, bipedal primate we now call 'Homo sapiens', and with that the Earth's natural history came to an abrupt end.
We are now living through the post-natural phase, where the fate of all living things is irrevocably intertwined with our own. We domesticated animals to suit our needs, and altered their DNA – wolves became dogs to help us hunt and junglefowl became chickens to provide us with eggs. As our knowledge grew we found new ways to tailor the DNA of animals more precisely; we've now cloned police dogs and created a little glow-in-the-dark fish – the world's first genetically modified pet. The breakthroughs continue.
Through climate change, humans have now affected even the most remote environments and their inhabitants, and studies suggest that through our actions we are forcing some animals to evolve at breakneck speed to survive. Whilst some are thriving, others are on the brink of extinction, and for others the only option is life in captivity. Today, it's not just the fittest that survive; sometimes it's the ones we decide to let live.
In this entertaining and thought-provoking book, Helen Pilcher considers the many ways that we've shaped the DNA of the animal kingdom and in so doing, altered the fate of life on earth. In her post-natural history guide, she invites us to meet key species that have been sculpted by humanity, as well as the researchers and conservationists who create, manage and tend to these post-natural creations.
Helen Pilcher is a tea-drinking, biscuit-nibbling science and comedy writer. She has a PhD in Cell Biology from London's Institute of Psychiatry. A former reporter for Nature, she now specializes in biology, medicine and quirky off-the-wall science, and writes for outlets including New Scientist and BBC Focus. Unusually for a self-proclaimed geek, Helen also used to be a stand-up comedian before the arrival of children meant she couldn't physically stay awake past 9 pm. She now gigs from time to time, and lives in rural Warwickshire with her husband, three kids and besotted dog.
"Tackles how humans are altering existing animal life. It has some good lines and is richly entertaining throughout, but under the surface it is pretty serious."
– Sunday Times
"Helen Pilcher takes on the unenviable task of describing how our species has been on a collision course, spanning roughly 300,000 years of history, with the rest of life on earth. It shouldn't make for good reading but, mercifully, Pilcher is both very funny and very, very clever."
– Gillian Burke, biologist and TV presenter
"With warm wit and glorious pace, Life Changing delivers an eloquent commentary on this, the age of post-natural history. Expertly pulling together and detailing the work of hundreds of scientists around the world, Pilcher encourages us to ask timely questions about our role as stewards and curators of a planet struggling under our influence."
– Jules Howard, naturalist, science writer and author of Death on Earth