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The Mermaid's Tale: Four Billion Years of Cooperation in the Making of Living Things

By: Kenneth M Weiss and Anne V Buchanan

268 pages, 6 halftones, 52 line illustrations, 1 table

Harvard University Press

Hardback | Feb 2009 | #175940 | ISBN-13: 9780674031937
Availability: Usually dispatched within 4 days Details
NHBS Price: £29.95 $39/€34 approx

About this book

Even after 150 years, Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is irresistibly compelling. But, how can this idea - in which competition prevails - be consistent with all that we know about the thoroughly cooperative nature of life at the genetic and cellular level? This book reconciles these discrepancies.

Assembling a set of general principles, authors Kenneth Weiss and Anne Buchanan build a comprehensive, unified theory that applies on the evolutionary time scale but also on the developmental and ecological scales where daily life is lived, and cells, organisms, and species interact. They present this story through a diversity of examples spanning the fundamental challenges that organisms have faced throughout the history of life. This shows that even very complex traits can be constructed simply, based on these principles.

Although relentless competitive natural selection is widely assumed to be the primary mover of evolutionary change, "The Mermaid's Tale" shows how life more generally works on the basis of cooperation. The book reveals that the focus on competition and cooperation is largely an artifact of the compression of time - a distortion that dissolves when the nature and origins of adapted life are viewed primarily from developmental and evolutionary time scales.

The Mermaid's Tale is sure to raise more than a few eyebrows among evolutionary biologists. At the very least, it ought to make them think very hard - as they should - about entertaining alternatives to our current received wisdom. - Ian Tattersall, American Museum of Natural History"


* Preface: A Biography of Life Part I. The Time of Life: A Broadening Perspective * Life as History * Opening the Pentagon * Principles of Life * Inheritance with Memory * Walking down Memory Lane Part II. The Logic of Life: Complexity Made Simply * Cells as Cytospecies * Life on the Devo Scale: Cytospeciation and the Logic of Development * Life on the Eco Scale: Directed Change from a Threatening, Unpredictable World * Life on the Eco Scale: Making Sense of Complexity Part III. The Consistency of Life: EcoDevoEvo * Form Emerges in Many Ways * The Cooperative Genome *"Ligand Seeking Receptor. Objective: Binding Relationship" * Appendix A * Appendix B * Appendix C * Suggested Reading by General Category * References * Index

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Kenneth M. Weiss is Evan Pugh Professor of Anthropology and Genetics, Pennsylvania State University. Anne V. Buchanan is Senior Research Scientist, Department of Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University.

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