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Visionary Scientists and a Siberian Tale of Jump-Started Evolution
Author: Lee Alan Dugatkin
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Tucked away in Siberia, there are furry, four-legged creatures with wagging tails and floppy ears that are as docile and friendly as any lapdog. But, despite appearances, these are not dogs—they are foxes. They are the result of the most astonishing experiment in breeding ever undertaken—imagine speeding up thousands of years of evolution into a few decades. In 1959, biologists Dmitri Belyaev and Lyudmila Trut set out to do just that, by starting with a few dozen silver foxes from fox farms in the USSR and attempting to recreate the evolution of wolves into dogs in real time in order to witness the process of domestication. This is the extraordinary, untold story of this remarkable undertaking. Most accounts of the natural evolution of wolves place it over a span of about 15,000 years, but within a decade, Belyaev and Trut’s fox breeding experiments had resulted in puppy-like foxes with floppy ears, piebald spots, and curly tails. Along with these physical changes came genetic and behavioral changes, as well. The foxes were bred using selection criteria for tameness, and with each generation, they became increasingly interested in human companionship. Trut has been there the whole time, and has been the lead scientist on this work since Belyaev’s death in 1985, and with Lee Dugatkin, biologist and science writer, she tells the story of the adventure, science, politics, and love behind it all. In How to Tame a Fox, Dugatkin and Trut take us inside this path-breaking experiment in the midst of the brutal winters of Siberia to reveal how scientific history is made and continues to be made today. To date, fifty-six generations of foxes have been domesticated, and we continue to learn significant lessons from them about the genetic and behavioral evolution of domesticated animals. How to Tame a Fox offers an incredible tale of scientists at work, while also celebrating the deep attachments that have brought humans and animals together throughout time.
A dazzling tour of evolution in action that sheds light on one of the greatest debates in science The natural world is full of fascinating instances of convergence: phenomena like eyes and wings and tree-climbing lizards that have evolved independently, multiple times. Convergence suggests that evolution is predictable, and if we could replay the tape of life, we would get the same outcome. But there are also many examples of contingency, cases where the tiniest change - a random mutation or an ancient butterfly sneeze - caused evolution to take a completely different course. So are we humans, and all the plants and animals in the world today, inevitabilities or evolutionary freaks? What role does chance play in evolution? And what could it tell us about life on other planets? In Improbable Destinies, renowned researcher Jonathan Losos reveals what the latest breakthroughs in evolutionary biology tell us about one of the greatest ongoing debates in science. Evolution can occur far more rapidly than Darwin expected, which has opened the door to something that was previously thought impossible: experimental studies of evolution in nature. Drawing on his own work with anole lizards on the Caribbean islands, as well as studies of guppies, foxes, field mice and others being conducted around the world, Losos reveals just how rapid and predictable evolution can be. By charting the discoveries of the scientists who are rewriting our understanding of evolutionary biology, Improbable Destinies will change the way we think and talk about evolution.
The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality and Utopia
Author: Michael Shermer
Publisher: Hachette UK
A scientific exploration into humanity's obsession with the afterlife and the quest for immortality from the bestselling author and sceptic Michael Shermer In his most ambitious work yet, Shermer sets out to discover what drives humans' belief in life after death. For millennia, the awareness of our own mortality and failings has led to religions concocting comforting notions of an afterlife, of heaven and hell, utopias and dystopias, and of the perfectibility of human nature. Heavens on Earth explores the numerous manifestations of the afterlife - a place where souls might go after the death of the physical body. Religious leaders have toiled to make sense of this place that a surprisingly high percentage of people believe exists, but from which no one has ever returned to report what it is really like. This is one of the most profound questions of the human condition and has long driven philosophers and theologians to try to understand the meaning and purpose of life for mortal beings, and how we can transcend mortality. Shermer details recent scientific attempts to achieve immortality by radical life extentionists, extropians, transhumanists, cryonicists and mind-uploaders, along with utopians who have attempted to create heaven on earth. Heavens on Earth concludes with an uplifting paean to purpose and progress and what we can do in the here-and-now, whether or not there is a hereafter.
A unique, compelling exploration of the universal human need for animal companions -- from dogs and cats to horses, birds, house-rabbits, and even exotica such as lizards and snakes -- through the eyes of an historical detective and devoted pet-lover. The earliest evidence of a human and a pet can be traced as far back as 26,000 BC in France, where a boy and his "canid" took a walk through a cave. Their foot and paw prints were preserved together on the muddy cave floor, and smoke from the torch the boy carried was left on the walls, allowing archaeologists to carbon-date their journey. Our innate and undeniable need to live in the close company of animals is evident since pre-historic times. In The Animal's Companion, bestselling author, acclaimed cultural detective and lifelong pet owner Jacky Colliss Harvey uses her compelling storytelling skills and keen eye for historical investigation to examine our role as animals' companions, in this exploration of the history not of the pet, but of us as pet owners. Drawing on literary, artistic, and archaeological evidence over thousands of years of human experience, she examines the when, the how, and the why of our connection to those animals we take into our lives, assessing these against the latest scientific thinking, and suggesting new insights into this most long-standing of all human love affairs.