Shaping Life - Smith, John E. - Yale University Press
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- Darwinism Today Series
Genes, Embryos and Evolution
During the past ten years, there has been a revolution in our understanding of developmental biology, as scientists apply the ideas and techniques of genetics and embryology to the processes of development. In this book, John Maynard Smith gives an account of the progress that has been made in this field—in our knowledge of both the development of individuals and the evolution of the species.
Maynard Smith points out that there is a parallel between the developmental changes that convert an egg into an adult and the evolutionary changes that, on an enormously longer time scale, have converted simple single-celled ancestors into the existing array of multicellular animals and plants. Genetic studies provide the necessary link between development and evolution: natural selection explains how information is incorporated in the genome, and development shows what use is made of it during the development of each individual.
Traditionally, two very different views have been held about development. Maynard Smith argues that the differences between them are not so much scientific as ideological—one can be considered reductionist and the other holistic. But because of advances in the science underpinning both viewpoints, he says, the possibility of a dialogue between them is great, which will be beneficial to the entire discipline.
John Maynard Smith is emeritus professor of biology at the University of Sussex.
A selection of the Natural Science Book Club
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