Sunday, February 7
Walking back to the car I pass an electric bike displayed in a shop window like art. I stand and look at it for a few minutes.
I will spend the evening finisheing a book by David Quammen called The Tangled Tree. It describes some of the recent breakthroughs in bscure branches of biology that seem to demonstrate that bacteria do not have species and transfer genes horizontally. To quote from a review in Amazon:
In the mid-1970s, scientists began using DNA sequences to reexamine the history of all life. Perhaps the most startling discovery to come out of this new field — the study of life’s diversity and relatedness at the molecular level — is horizontal gene transfer (HGT), or the movement of genes across species lines. It turns out that HGT has been widespread and important. For instance, we now know that roughly eight percent of the human genome arrived not through traditional inheritance from directly ancestral forms, but sideways by viral infection — a type of HGT.
My problem with the book lies with the style, which seems to form the main selling point for many other people. It proceeds almost entirely through anecdote. As Nature points out, Quammen “is one of that rare breed of science journalists who blends exploration with a talent for synthesis and storytelling”. Like this:
Carl Woese was a complicated man – fiercely dedicated and very private – who seized upon deep questions
And so on.