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The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin's Dilemma

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  136 ratings  ·  10 reviews
Offering daring new ideas about evolution, two highly respected biologists here tackle the central, unresolved question in the field—how have living organisms on Earth developed with such astounding variety and complexity? Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart draw on cutting-edge biological and medical research to provide an original solution to this longstanding puzzle.
Paperback, 336 pages
Published November 15th 2006 by Yale University Press (first published 2005)
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May 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating molecular systems view of evolution. Not really recommended for people not up on their biology jargon but pretty awesome.
Pete Welter
Jul 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
The theory of evolution has three major elements: natural selection, heredity and variation. While support for the first two is quite solid, this book focuses on the variation part of the equation. In the classic version of evolution, it's given that random mutations cause variation, and that some small set of these mutations are helpful and therefore selected for. However, there are few things skipped over with that version of the story. First, the generation of novelty; that is, how do major j ...more
Krishna Shrinivas
Sep 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Thought provoking treatise on adaptability, and origins of life's great capacity to innovate with limited material. However, despite the authors' best intentions, this book is not a easy read for non-specialists.
Apr 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
A well-organized and clear explanation of the authors' theory of facilitated variation to help show how modern findings in molecular biology and development indicate likely mechanisms of evolution. Darwin describes selection acting on naturally occurring phenotypic variation in populations of organisms. Changes were thought to occur gradually and the variation was attributed to random mutation. But how, exactly, could this lead to the development of strikingly complex physiologic and anatomic st ...more
Fei Sha
Dec 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Where does the complexity and variety as we observe in life come from? So far it seems Darwin’s random mutation and selection is not enough to give rise to the many variation.

This paper offers an important ingredient: facilitated variation. In the more complete theory of evolution, facilitated variation leads to biased mutation or a small number of genetic changes but still results in complex phenotypic novelty that adapts to environment.

How this is implemented draws sharp contrast to the desi
Apr 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 2007
This is the scary part where we get to see if I actually understood what I read. To explain it a little more, they're proposing a theory called "Facilitated Variation." Basically, they're saying that it is impossible that complex structures evolved from complete small chunks of randomness because all of the complex parts couldn't possibly be coordinated just by chance (e.g. the muscles, bones, capillaries, nerves, etc. of the hand), and also because the individual bits of things have no adaptive ...more
Dec 24, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Darwin's theory of evolution explains the process of natural selection, but doesn't explain the sources of variation the selection acts upon. A lot more is known about variation now than in Darwin's days: how Hox genes divide the bilateral animal embryo into segments, and allow mutated genes to change the development of one segment only; what parts of the genome are conserved for all life, what parts are for all eukaryotes, and so on, and what parts are plastic. There is a connection between the ...more
Apr 01, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: science, biology
This is a fascinating book that proposes a new neo-Darwinian theory for the evolution of life. The theory is called "facilitated variation", because the authors believe that purely random mutations are not sufficient to produce the variability upon which selection can act. The authors show how the biases in phenotype variation play a large part in evolution.

This may be a very important book, but to tell the truth, I don't understand much of it. The book is highly technical, but it is
Samuel Lampa
Feb 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biology
Very very interesting book on the modularity of biology, and its implications for biology's ability to adapt to its surroundings. I don't agree on all the conclusions of the authors, but I fully agree with their statement that (quoting from memory), "the question of origin of novelty remains one of the biggest challenges in biology today".
Nov 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A great book if you are interested in how evolution creates very complex system known as life.
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