I am delighted to welcome back to Forthright Radio, award winning author, journalist, David Quammen. He was our guest 5 years ago after his book, SPILLOVER: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic was published. His latest book, THE TANGLED TREE: A RADICAL NEW HISTORY OF LIFE, published by Simon & Schuster came out a couple of weeks ago. And lest you think this book, being about science – the research and theorizing – isn’t something you’d be interested in – let me tell you, this recent research reveals just how bacteria become resistant to our most potent antibiotics so quickly and fatally to so many, or how Horizontal Gene Transfer not only allowed for evolution, but may explain how certain cancers develop – as well as questioning our most basic concepts of ourselves as a species and individuals. And this puts a new meaning on “Tree Huggers” and “Tree Cutters”.
David Quammen has won many awards for his books and magazine articles, including from the National Association of Science Writers, and the Society of Biology (UK) Book Award in General Biology. His work with National Geographic is particularly noteworthy, and has taken him on myriad, lengthy difficult treks, which distinguish him from most authors, such as chronicling J. Michael Fay’s 2,000 mile survey hike through the forests of Central Africa, The Megatransect.
Charles Darwin speculated on the evolution of life as a tree, with “I think” written on top.
A popular 20th century version based on Darwin’s idea of a tree of evolution. At least this one, doesn’t place humans explicitly above other species.
In the 20th century there has been a tumultuous debate as to how best to characterize the concept of evolution. Is it a tree? Is it a web? Is it a net? A mosaic?
In David Quammen’s book, Carl Woese’s work was crucial to the debate, pioneering molecular phylogenetics, using (at the time) dangerous, innovative techniques to study RNA as a basis to determine species and evolution.
After demonstrating that there was a third “kingdom”, the Archaea, different from Bacteria, Carl Woese proposed a new Tree of Life pictured above.LynnMargulis, married Carl Sagan when she was 19. After bearing 2 sons with him, she moved on. She took her second husband’s name, Margulis while making her revolutionary mark on biology. After juggling the three jobs of scientist, mother and wife, she decided to forego that last job, wife.
Her work synthesized earlier ideas, which she coined, endosymbiosis, that organelles, crucial to more complex life forms – including humans – were based on “infective heredity” by bacteria, that established essential organelles such as mitochondria, chloroplasts and centrioles.