Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution

Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution

by Jonathan B. Losos


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A major new book overturning our assumptions about how evolution works
Earth’s natural history is full of fascinating instances of convergence: phenomena like eyes and wings and tree-climbing lizards that have evolved independently, multiple times. But evolutionary biologists also point out 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. What role does each force really play in the constantly changing natural world? Are the plants and animals that exist today, and we humans ourselves, inevitabilities or evolutionary flukes? And what does that say about life on other planets?
Jonathan Losos reveals what the latest breakthroughs in evolutionary biology can tell us about one of the greatest ongoing debates in science. He takes us around the globe to meet the researchers who are solving the deepest mysteries of life on Earth through their work in experimental evolutionary science. Losos himself is one of the leaders in this exciting new field, and he illustrates how experiments with guppies, fruit flies, bacteria, foxes, and field mice, along with his own work with anole lizards on Caribbean islands, are rewinding the tape of life to reveal just how rapid and predictable evolution can be. 
Improbable Destinies will change the way we think and talk about evolution. Losos's insights into natural selection and evolutionary change have far-reaching applications for protecting ecosystems, securing our food supply, and fighting off harmful viruses and bacteria. This compelling narrative offers a new understanding of ourselves and our role in the natural world and the cosmos.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399184925
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/08/2017
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Jonathan B. Losos is a biology professor at Washington University and director of the Living Earth Collaborative, a partnership between the university, the Saint Louis Zoo, and the Missouri Botanical Garden. Previously, Losos was a professor of biology at Harvard University and Curator in Herpetology at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. Losos is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the editor in chief of The Princeton Guide to Evolution and How Evolution Shapes Our Lives, and the author of Lizards in an Evolutionary Tree.

Table of Contents

Preface ix

Introduction The Good Dinosaur 1

Part 1 Nature's Doppelgängers

Chapter 1 Evolutionary Déjà Vu 27

Chapter 2 Replicated Reptiles 57

Chapter 3 Evolutionary Idiosyncrasy 81

PART 2 Experiments In The Wild

Chapter 4 The Not-So-Glacial Pace of Evolutionary Change 111

Chapter 5 Colorful Trinidad 123

Chapter 6 Lizard Castaways 155

Chapter 7 From Manure to Modern Science 181

Chapter 8 Evolution in Swimming Pools and Sandboxes 195

Part 3 Evolution Under The Microscope

Chapter 9 Replaying the Tape 219

Chapter 10 Breakthrough in a Bottle 247

Chapter 11 Jots, Tittles, and Drunken Fruit Flies 263

Chapter 12 The Human Environment 285

Conclusion Fate, Chance, and the Inevitability of Humans 311

Acknowledgments 337

About the Illustrator 341

Notes 343

Index 355

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