How Life Began
Evolution's Three Geneses
How Life Began elucidates three origins, or geneses, of life—bacteria, nucleated cells, and multicellular organisms—and shows how evolution has sculpted life to its current biodiversity through four main events—mutation, recombination, natural selection, and geologic cataclysm. As an ecologist who specializes in algae, the first organisms to colonize Earth, Meinesz brings a refreshingly novel voice to the history of biodiversity and emphasizes here the role of unions in organizing life. For example, the ingestion of some bacteria by other bacteria led to mitochondria that characterize animal and plant cells, and the chloroplasts of plant cells.
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"A French marine biologist best known for his work with Mediterranean ecosystems gone awry (documented in his 1999 Killer Algae), Meinesz brings his vast knowledge of molecular biology to bear on the question, 'What is Life?' He comes up with some startling, if speculative, answers. Despite many advances in genetics and other sciences, Meinesz asserts there is no empirical evidence of a life-generating 'molecular soup' (and he that doubts any will be forthcoming), but evidence does exist to support the theory that the 'seeds of life' came to earth on a meteor. Using the latest scientific data, Meinesz covers the sweep of evolution, paying particular attention to bacteria and unicellular organisms. He locates the engine for evolution in a system of 'endosymbiosis,' illustrated in a chapter on the symbiotic relationship between tropical 'vampire' sea slugs and the 'killer' algae. Meinesz doesn’t deny the role disaster and luck play in the survival of life forms over billions of years, and he doesn’t believe that the 'increasing complexity' of evolution is a given—rather, the 'grandeur of life' is a ceaseless evolution that stretches in more directions than one. Writing with charm and an eye toward the general audience, Meinesz’s lively guide to evolution is compelling, up-to-the-minute popular science at its best."
"What distinguishes this book from other recent studies...is the integrative and humanistic approach in which Johannes Vermeer's painting of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (the discoverer of microbes) and contemporary cartoons depicting cells eating cells (the origins of cellular organelles) are integrated with genetics, natural selection, geological cataclysms, and speculations on the extraterrestrial origins of life (panspermia) to portray how unicellular organisms arose 3.5 billion years ago, gave rise to unicellular organisms 2.5 billions years ago, and came to dominate current biodiversity on the planet. The writing is engaging, the style accessible, and the messages clear...Highly recommended."
"Meinesz brings a refreshingly novel voice to the history of biodiversity and emphasizes here the role of unions in organizing life. . . . [A] charismatic narrative of the three origins of life."
Chapter 1. Henri’s Cave
Chapter 2. On the Origin of Life on Earth
Chapter 3. Papa, What’s a Bacterium?
Chapter 4. The Vampire Slug of the Killer Alga
Chapter 5. Vermeer and Van Leeuwenhoek
Chapter 6. The Densimeter
Chapter 7. The Lego Game
Chapter 8. Candide, Jurassic Park, and Noah
Chapter 9. The End of the Evolutionary String