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Lynn Margulis

The Symbiotic Planet

Lynn Margulis is probably the person most associated with the development of the theory of symbiosis. In The Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution she discusses some of the aspects of symbiosis, and how it has shaped life on earth. She explains the development of Serial Endosymbiosis Theory, and goes on to look at the origin of life on earth, and the origin of sex. All the while Margulis emphasises the problems which occur when we insist on thinking of life as consisting of individual organisms, for instance in the way we give them names. The final chapter discusses the planetwide symbiosis known as Gaia.

I felt that the chapters of this book could best be seen as a collection of separate essays, rather than the development of a single thread, which is what I had expected. Possibly more disconcerting is the fact that Margulis always seems to have to be disagreeing with someone. If this had been a book about how she challenged and overcame the forces of orthodoxy then it would have been worth reading, but unfortunately the disagreements tend to take on the form of background noise, which I felt detracted from the rest of the book. But if you don't mind that style of writing then you'll find many interesting ideas in this book.

Product Description
Although Charles Darwin's theory of evolution laid the foundations of modern biology, it did not tell the whole story. Most remarkably, The Origin of Species said very little about, of all things, the origins of species. Darwin and his modern successors have shown very convincingly how inherited variations are naturally selected, but they leave unanswered how variant organisms come to be in the first place.In Symbiotic Planet, renowned scientist Lynn Margulis shows that symbiosis, which simply means members of different species living in physical contact with each other, is crucial to the origins of evolutionary novelty. Ranging from bacteria, the smallest kinds of life, to the largest—the living Earth itself—Margulis explains the symbiotic origins of many of evolution's most important innovations. The very cells we're made of started as symbiotic unions of different kinds of bacteria. Sex—and its inevitable corollary, death—arose when failed attempts at cannibalism resulted in seasonally repeated mergers of some of our tiniest ancestors. Dry land became forested only after symbioses of algae and fungi evolved into plants. Since all living things are bathed by the same waters and atmosphere, all the inhabitants of Earth belong to a symbiotic union. Gaia, the finely tuned largest ecosystem of the Earth's surface, is just symbiosis as seen from space. Along the way, Margulis describes her initiation into the world of science and the early steps in the present revolution in evolutionary biology; the importance of species classification for how we think about the living world; and the way “academic apartheid” can block scientific advancement. Written with enthusiasm and authority, this is a book that could change the way you view our living Earth.