In the 150 years since Darwin, the field of evolutionary biology has left a glaring gap in understanding how animals developed their astounding variety and complexity. The standard answer has been that small genetic mutations accumulate over time to produce wondrous innovations such as eyes and wings. Drawing on cutting-edge research across the spectrum of modern biology, Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart demonstrate how this stock answer is woefully inadequate. Rather they offer an original solution to the longstanding puzzle of how small random genetic change can be converted into complex useful innovations. In a new theory they call 'facilitated variation', Kirschner and Gerhart elevate the individual organism from a passive target of natural selection to a central player in the 3-billion-year history of evolution. In clear, accessible language, the authors invite every reader to contemplate daring new ideas about evolution. By closing the major gap in Darwin's theory Kirschner and Gerhart also provide a timely scientific rebuttal to modern critics of evolution who champion 'intelligent design'.
Marc W. Kirschner is professor and chair, Department of Systems Biology, Harvard Medical School. John C. Gerhart is professor in the Graduate School, University of California, Berkeley.
'intriguing and compelling... highly recommended... an insightful look at an important area of scientific work' John Gribbin, The Independent '... challenging and provocative.' Michael Le Page, New Scientist 'In this terrific new book, molecular systems meet evolution. The result is a wealth of stimulating ideas set among clear explanations drawn from a revelatory decade in biology.' Andrew H. Knoll, author of Life on a Young Planet 'Thought-provoking and lucidly written... The Plausibility of Life will help readers understand not just the plausibility of evolution, but its remarkable, inventive powers.' Sean Carroll, author of Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo 'Remarkably lucid and comprehensive, this new theoretical synthesis will... shift the grounds for debate in the controversy surrounding organic evolution.' Booklist (starred review)