A new online first article in the Journal of the History of Biology might interest readers here:
Patterns of Infection and Patterns of Evolution: How a Malaria Parasite Brought “Monkeys and Man” Closer Together in the 1960s
Rachel Mason Detinger
Abstract In 1960, American parasitologist Don Eyles was unexpectedly infected with a malariaparasite isolated from a macaque. He and his supervisor, G. Robert Coatney of the National Institutes of Health, had started this series of experiments with the assumption that humans were not susceptible to “monkey malaria.” The revelation that a mosquito carrying a macaque parasite could infect a human raised a whole range of public health and biological questions. This paper follows Coatney’s team of parasitologists and their subjects: from the human to the nonhuman; from the American laboratory to the forests of Malaysia; and between the domains of medical research and natural history. In the course of this research, Coatney and his colleagues inverted Koch’s postulate, by which animal subjects are used to identify and understand human parasites. In contrast, Coatney’s experimental protocol used human subjects to identify and understand monkey parasites. In so doing, the team repeatedly followed malaria parasites across the purported boundary separating monkeys and humans, a practical experience that created a sense of biological symmetry between these separate species. Ultimately, this led Coatney and his colleagues make evolutionary inferences, concluding “that monkeys and man are more closely related than some of us wish to admit.” In following monkeys, men, and malaria across biological, geographical, and disciplinary boundaries, this paper offers a new historical narrative, demonstrating that the pursuit of public health agendas can fuel the expansion of evolutionary knowledge.
Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (New York : Henry Holt and Co, 2014), 336 pp.
A major book about the future of the world, blending intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a powerful account of the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes.
Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In The Sixth Extinction, two-time winner of the National Magazine Award and New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert draws on the work of scores of researchers in half a dozen disciplines, accompanying many of them into the field: geologists who study deep ocean cores, botanists who follow the tree line as it climbs up the Andes, marine biologists who dive off the Great Barrier Reef. She introduces us to a dozen species, some already gone, others facing extinction, including the Panamian golden frog, staghorn coral, the great auk, and the Sumatran rhino. Through these stories, Kolbert provides a moving account of the disappearances occurring all around us and traces the evolution of extinction as concept, from its first articulation by Georges Cuvier in revolutionary Paris up through the present day. The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind’s most lasting legacy; as Kolbert observes, it compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.
Kolbert has done any radio interviews and podcasts about her new book, including for NPR, Slate, New Books in Environmental Studies, and the American Museum of Natural History.
On a similar note – a new documentary, 6 the Movie:
While I post about a lot of history books, sometimes it’s fun to dig into a simple popular science book, such as this new title:
Stephen R. Palumbi and Anthony R. Palumbi, The Extreme Life of the Sea (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), 256 pp.
The ocean teems with life that thrives under difficult situations in unusual environments. The Extreme Life of the Sea takes readers to the absolute limits of the ocean world–the fastest and deepest, the hottest and oldest creatures of the oceans. It dives into the icy Arctic and boiling hydrothermal vents–and exposes the eternal darkness of the deepest undersea trenches–to show how marine life thrives against the odds. This thrilling book brings to life the sea’s most extreme species, and tells their stories as characters in the drama of the oceans. Coauthored by Stephen Palumbi, one of today’s leading marine scientists, The Extreme Life of the Sea tells the unforgettable tales of some of the most marvelous life forms on Earth, and the challenges they overcome to survive. Modern science and a fluid narrative style give every reader a deep look at the lives of these species.
The Extreme Life of the Sea shows you the world’s oldest living species. It describes how flying fish strain to escape their predators, how predatory deep-sea fish use red searchlights only they can see to find and attack food, and how, at the end of her life, a mother octopus dedicates herself to raising her batch of young. This wide-ranging and highly accessible book also shows how ocean adaptations can inspire innovative commercial products–such as fan blades modeled on the flippers of humpback whales–and how future extremes created by human changes to the oceans might push some of these amazing species over the edge.
Sara Levine, Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons (Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publishing Group, 2013), 32 pp. Illustrated by T.S Spookytooth.
What animal would you be if your finger bones grew so long that they reached your feet? Or what if you had no leg bones but kept your arm bones? This picture book will keep you guessing as you read about how human skeletons are like—and unlike—those of other animals.
Although this book does not discuss evolutionary relationships (homology, common descent), it is a fun introduction to comparative anatomy for elementary students!
Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures, by Virgina Morrell (New York: Crown, 2013), 291 pp.
Did you know that ants teach, earthworms make decisions, rats love to be tickled, and chimps grieve? Did you know that some dogs have thousand-word vocabularies and that birds practice songs in their sleep? That crows improvise tools, blue jays plan ahead, and moths remember living as caterpillars?
Animal Wise takes us on a dazzling odyssey into the inner world of animals, from ants to elephants to wolves, and from sharp-shooting archerfish to pods of dolphins that rumble like rival street gangs. With 30 years of experience covering the sciences, Morell uses her formidable gifts as a story-teller to transport us to field sites and laboratories around the world, introducing us to pioneering animal-cognition researchers and their surprisingly intelligent and sensitive subjects. She explores how this rapidly evolving, controversial field has only recently overturned old notions about why animals behave as they do. She probes the moral and ethical dilemmas of recognizing that even “lesser animals” have cognitive abilities such as memory, feelings, personality, and self-awareness–traits that many in the twentieth century felt were unique to human beings.
By standing behaviorism on its head, Morell brings the world of nature brilliantly alive in a nuanced, deeply felt appreciation of the human-animal bond, and she shares her admiration for the men and women who have simultaneously chipped away at what we think makes us distinctive while offering a glimpse of where our own abilities come from.