Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life

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A Best Book of the YearSeed Magazine Granta Magazine The Plain-DealerIn this fascinating and utterly engaging book, Carl Zimmer traces E. coli's pivotal role in the history of biology, from the discovery of DNA to the latest advances in biotechnology. He reveals the many surprising and alarming parallels between E. coli's life and our own. And he describes how E. coli changes in real time, revealing billions of years of history encoded within its genome. E. coli is also the most engineered species on Earth, and as scientists retool this microbe to produce life-saving drugs and clean fuel, they are discovering just how far the definition of life can be stretched.


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About the author

Carl Zimmer writes about science for The New York Times, and his work also appears in National Geographic, Scientific American, and Discover, where he is a contributing editor. He won a 2007 National Academies Communication Award, the highest honor for science writing. He is the author of five prevcious books, including Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea and Parasite Rex, for which he has earned fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Zimmer also writes an award-winning blog, The Loom. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and children.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
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4.8
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Additional Information

Publisher
Vintage
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Published on
May 6, 2008
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Pages
272
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ISBN
9780307377562
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Language
English
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Genres
Science / Biotechnology
Science / History
Science / Life Sciences / Microbiology
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Heredity is redefined in this sweeping, resonating overview of a force that shaped human society—a force set to shape our future even more radically.

“Extraordinary”—New York Times Book Review   
“A beguiling narrative”—Nature  
“A treasure trove”—Science    
“Magnificent”—Publishers Weekly   
“Enchanting”—Kirkus Reviews

Award-winning, celebrated New York Times columnist and science writer Carl Zimmer presents a profoundly original perspective on what we pass along from generation to generation. Charles Darwin played a crucial part in turning heredity into a scientific question, and yet he failed spectacularly to answer it. The birth of genetics in the early 1900s seemed to do precisely that. Gradually, people translated their old notions about heredity into a language of genes. As the technology for studying genes became cheaper, millions of people ordered genetic tests to link themselves to missing parents, to distant ancestors, to ethnic identities...

But, Zimmer writes, “Each of us carries an amalgam of fragments of DNA, stitched together from some of our many ancestors. Each piece has its own ancestry, traveling a different path back through human history. A particular fragment may sometimes be cause for worry, but most of our DNA influences who we are—our appearance, our height, our penchants—in inconceivably subtle ways.” Heredity isn’t just about genes that pass from parent to child. Heredity continues within our own bodies, as a single cell gives rise to trillions of cells that make up our bodies. We say we inherit genes from our ancestors—using a word that once referred to kingdoms and estates—but we inherit other things that matter as much or more to our lives, from microbes to technologies we use to make life more comfortable. We need a new definition of what heredity is and, through Carl Zimmer’s lucid exposition and storytelling, this resounding tour de force delivers it. 

Weaving historical and current scientific research, his own experience with his two daughters, and the kind of original reporting expected of one of the world’s best science journalists, Zimmer ultimately unpacks urgent bioethical quandaries arising from new biomedical technologies, but also long-standing presumptions about who we really are and what we can pass on to future generations.
With this lively book of activites as their guide, students can follow seven scientists into their labs and out to the field to discover how evolution works. Meanwhile, you'll benefit from the practical help the book provides with the twin challenges of evolution: what to teach and how to teach it.

For students, Virus and the Whale brings to light some of today's most exciting and up-to-date research through the stories of scientists who study evolution. Each featured research project highlights an important aspect of evolutionary biology, from the "arms race" between viruses and their human hosts to the long-term evolutionary changes that can turn a land mammal into a whale. The activites lead students to investigate evolution as they try out the kinds of creative thinking skills real scientists use to make new discoveries.

For teachers, three preliminary chapters explain how to use the scientists' stories as a logical framework for teaching evolutionary concepts. These chapters provide accurate natural history background; offer additional information on the evolution of each of the seven organisms investigated in the book; and introduce common ways in which children and adults think and learn about evolution. Each activity lists learning outcomes tied to the U.S. National Science Education Standards and includes assessment questions and materials lists.

Virus and the Whale combines a dynamic narrative with easy-to-use activities, clear illustrations, and a welcome dose of humour.

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