Over the history of life there have been several major changes in the way genetic information is organized and transmitted from one generation to the next. These transitions include the origin of life itself, the first eukaryotic cells, reproduction by sexual means, the appearance of multicellular plants and animals, the emergence of cooperation and of animal societies, and the unique language ability of humans. This ambitious book provides the first unified discussion of the full range of these transitions. The authors highlight the similarities between different transitions--between the union of replicating molecules to form chromosomes and of cells to form multicellular organisms, for example--and show how understanding one transition sheds light on others. They trace a common theme throughout the history of evolution: after a major transition some entities lose the ability to replicate independently, becoming able to reproduce only as part of a larger whole. The authors investigate this pattern and why selection between entities at a lower level does not disrupt selection at more complex levels. Their explanation encompasses a compelling theory of the evolution of cooperation at all levels of complexity. Engagingly written and filled with numerous illustrations, this book can be read with enjoyment by anyone with an undergraduate training in biology. It is ideal for advanced discussion groups on evolution and includes accessible discussions of a wide range of topics, from molecular biology and linguistics to insect societies.
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John Maynard Smith (1920-2004) was Emeritus Professor of Biology in the University of Sussex. Eors Szathmary is at the Institute for Advanced Study, Budapest.Review:
"It spans the major transitions in evolution, starting with a prebiotic mix of free molecules and ending with the evolution of human language . . . . A splendid and rewarding tour de force."--Nature
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