A majority of evolutionary biologists believe that it is possible to envision our biological predecessors - not the first, but nearly the first, living beings on Earth. This book is about these vanished forebears, sketching them in the distant past just as their workings first began to resemble our own.
The advances that have made such a pursuit possible are rarely discussed outside of bio-labs. The author's aim is to provide a text for interested non-biologists, an introduction to our relatives in deep time, between the first rudimentary life on Earth and the appearance of more complex beings. This era between is known as the RNA world.
* Introduction to Your Ancestor * Before We Begin: A Voluntary Chapter * Framing the Problem: The Buffalo and the Bacterium * The Big Tree: No Jackalopes Please * A Dance of Atoms * Allegro Agitato: The Origin of Life * The Winds That Blow through the Starry Ways * Tornados in a Junkyard * Between Genomes and Creatures * A Thumbnail Molecular Biology * RNA Structure: A Tape with a Shape * Intimations of an RNA World * The Experimentally Impaired Sciences * Test Tube RNA Evolution: First Light * Selection Amplification: Interrogating RNA's Possibilities * RNA Duplication: Replicase Activity in Real RNAs * RNA Capabilities and the Origins of Translation * The Quest for the Peptidyl Transferase * A Language Much Older Than Hieroglyphics: The Genetic Code * Assume a Spherical Cow: The Ribocyte * The Future of the RNA World * Lexicon * Index
Michael Yarus is Professor Emeritus, Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, University of Colorado.
Life from an RNA World is an unconventional book about RNA. Rather than opening with the central dogma and attendant teachings on molecular biology, Yarus uses evolution as a gateway. He then takes us on a journey through evolutionary time, concentrating on the roles of the various forms of RNA...[He] is a proficient guide. -- Tim Harris Nature 20100325 Michael Yarus' book is a very enjoyable read, be the reader a well informed molecular biologist, or a lay person...Surely this book will highlight and increase the interest in the RNA world; raising the awareness that we are all, after all, the children of RNA. -- Michael Ladomery Chemistry World 20100701 Although precise historical details of the particular origin of life on Earth are probably unknowable, most scientists agree that a world existed in which RNA performed the duties of both genes and enzymes. This RNA world in turn evolved into the DNA-RNA-protein world of today. Michael Yarus's Life from an RNA World offers an engaging introduction to the subject...Recent discoveries make Yarus's book particularly timely, especially as a light-hearted introduction for scientifically minded readers outside the field. His chatty prose conveys the voice of a tour guide on a journey through the RNA world, introducing essential evolutionary and molecular biology and pointing out must-not-miss attractions. Even members of the origins-of-life community may appreciate his whimsical explanations of familiar phenomena. -- Irene A. Chen Science 20101105