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Life from an RNA World: The Ancestor Within

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  • Posted June 16, 2012

    An excellent introduction to the merits of the RNA world hypothesis

    Michael Yarus presents a very convincing argument that RNA once dominated the inner workings of early life on Earth, citing various experiments that have demonstrated the versatility of modern biological RNAs and those evolved through SELEX, a method that he mentions often and seems to promote. Be forewarned, this is not a book about the origin of life, but rather its early evolution. Yarus himself admits that RNA may not have been the first genetic material, and the subjects of this book--so called "ribocytes"--were not the founders of life. They were instead early pioneers. The reading is informative but accessible, lacking the intimidating formality of a textbook or scientific paper. The chapters are short, and all of the information therein is relatively easy to understand. As an undergraduate biology major, I have yet to take an organic chemistry class, and even though it has been suggested that the later chapters would require some extensive knowledge of organic chemistry, I did not find this to be the case. Even if one does encounter an unfamiliar term or idea, it is easily explained in the provided lexicon or a simple Google search. In conclusion, Yarus's book is an interesting glimpse into the speculative nature of our distant ancestors whose signature, despite erosion by the sands of time, still remains in each cell alive today on Earth.

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