Roger Lewin - Patterns in Evolution : The New Molecular View

Patterns in Evolution is a fabulous introduction to the ins-and-outs and history of molecular evidence like DNA fingerprinting, molecular evolution, molecular phylogeny (determining species ancestry and the tree of life through genetic analysis as opposed to the traditional method of comparative, taxonomic morphology), and genetic variation (within species). This includes a clear presentation of frequently misunderstood items like pseudogenes and the errors that can creep into analysis.

After the basics are covered in the first few chapters, the reader is treated to some very interesting cases and possibilities in the later portions of the book. A variety of examples are used from the lack of genetic variation in species that have been through a population bottleneck (like the Cheetah) to the impossible nature of harvesting ancient DNA from bones. Scenes such as those permanently painted in amber or in the 5,300 year old tattooed "Ice Man" discovered in the Tyrolean Oetztaler Alps make the book fascinating for those interested in anthropology.

Lewin covers the history of many scientific controversies which have been more or less solved via the advent of the molecular evidence. One such area is that of human evolution. His treatment of the multiregional vs. recent migration theories is more thorough than it was in Origins Reconsidered. I found his explanation of the neutral vs. selectionist molecular evolution debate to be more clearly presented here than in Mark Ridley's Evolution.

The format of Patterns in Evolution is excellent. Set up in a similar style to better textbooks, most pages are loaded with color pictures, illustrations, and useful examples. The "Further Readings" section is also very helpful.

Patterns in Evolution is a must read for anyone not familiar with the molecular side of the evolutionary evidence. Although no prior knowledge is necessary to understand the text, those with some background in the subject will still glean much. It is also important for those wondering in what ways molecular evidence can (and cannot) be used.

from the publisher:
In Patterns in Evolution, noted science journalist Roger Lewin explores how genetic information is providing new insight into evolutionary events: scientists are now able to study evolutionary change at the molecular level and reconstruct evolutionary lineages based on changes in DNA. With this new ability, they are overthrowing established ideas about which organisms are closely related and solving puzzles that had previously seemed beyond their reach. Lewin looks at how these new techniques are being used to explore a wide range of issues, from those regarding the deepest past to those concerned with the most recent present - from characterizing the universal ancestor of all life to tracking the trail of infection of the AIDS virus. The techniques have proved especially useful to anthropologists in their attempts to unravel the origins, both ancient and modern, of the human species.

Evolutionary biologists put the new genetic tools to especially creative use in their studies of ecology and animal behavior, which lead to fresh perspectives on why species diverge and new species emerge. Lewin shows how the tools are supplying answers to questions as diverse as why some turtles migrate thousands of miles to breed, why species have particular mating patterns, and how the interplay of geology and climate determine the evolution of new species.

Finally, Lewin looks at how scientists are resurrecting the DNA from animals long dead, including 5000-year-old mummies and 95-million-year-old insects trapped in amber, to give concrete answers to questions about the past. He shows how wolf skins stored in museums are guiding conservation efforts, how human remains from thousands of years ago are shedding light on ancient mating patterns, and how long-buried fossils are tempting scientists to undertake the challenge of recovering dinosaur DNA. A skilled storyteller, Roger Lewin brings to vivid life the investigations that are revealing not just the history of life, but the mechanisms of its evolution.

Table of Contents
1. A New Window onto Nature
2. Molecules versus Morphology
3. Trees of Life
4. The Puzzle of Genetic Variation
5. The Molecular Evolutionary Clock
6. Molecular Ecology
7. Molecular Anthropology
8. Ancient DNA
Further Readings
Sources of Illustrations