Epigenetics upends natural selection and genetic mutation as the sole engines of evolution, and offers startling insights into our future heritable traits.
In the 1700s, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck first described epigenetics to explain the inheritance of acquired characteristics; however, his theory was supplanted in the 1800s by Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection through heritable genetic mutations. But natural selection could not adequately explain how rapidly species re-diversified and repopulated after mass extinctions. Now advances in the study of DNA and RNA have resurrected epigenetics, which can create radical physical and physiological changes in subsequent generations by the simple addition of a single small molecule, thus passing along a propensity for molecules to attach in the same places in the next generation.
Epigenetics is a complex process, but paleontologist and astrobiologist Peter Ward breaks it down for general readers, using the epigenetic paradigm to reexamine how the history of our speciesfrom deep time to the outbreak of the Black Plague and into the presenthas left its mark on our physiology, behavior, and intelligence. Most alarming are chapters about epigenetic changes we are undergoing now triggered by toxins, environmental pollutants, famine, poor nutrition, and overexposure to violence.
Lamarck’s Revenge is an eye-opening and provocative exploration of how traits are inherited, and how outside influences drive what we pass along to our progeny.
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About the Author
Peter Ward, Ph.D. is a paleontologist and astrobiologist whose most recent book is A New History of Life, with coauthor Joe Kirschvink. Ward’s Rare Earth, coauthored with Don Brownlee, was named by Discover Magazine as one of the ten most important science books of the year and his Gorgon was awarded a Washington State Governor’s Book Award. He has appeared often on the Art Bell Coast to Coast radio program and on Science Friday with Ira Flatow. Ward lives in Washington State.
Table of Contents
Preface: The Jurassic Park of Nevada ix
Introduction: Looking Back 1
Chapter I From God to Science 8
Chapter II Lamarck to Darwin 23
Chapter III From Darwin to the New (Modern) Synthesis 34
Chapter IV Epigenetics and the Newer Synthesis 51
Chapter V The Best of Times, the Worst of Times-in Deep Time 80
Chapter VI Epigenetics and the Origin and Diversification of Life 94
Chapter VII Epigenetics and the Cambrian Explosion 111
Chapter VIII Epigenetic Processes Before and After Mass Extinctions 124
Chapter IX The Best and Worst of Times in Human History 145
Chapter X Epigenetics and Violence 163
Chapter XI Can Famine and Food Change Our DNA? 180
Chapter XII The Heritable Legacy of Pandemic Diseases 190
Chapter XIII The Chemical Present 199
Chapter XIV Future Biotic Evolution in the CRISPR-Cas9 World 211
Epilogue: Looking Forward 225