Evolution: A View from the 21st Century
My deepest debt of gratitude belongs to Barbara McClintock for sharing her friendship and wise scientific insights with me over the last dozenplus years of her life. She opened my eyes to a freer way of thinking about science in general and evolution in particular. Next comes Bill Hayes, my doctoral supervisor, who taught me the virtues of experimental simplicity, close observation, and logical thinking without preconceptions. He was an outstanding example of humane mentoring in an otherwise highly competitive field of scholarship.
This book had its genesis in two critical events separated by 15 years. In 1993, I was lucky enough to win the Darwin Prize Visiting Professorship from the University of Edinburgh. The accompanying lectures induced me to begin thinking in a comprehensive way about the role of natural genetic engineering in the evolutionary process. I owe the invitation chiefly to two couples, my longtime friends Willy and Millie Donachie and my newer friends Ken and Noreen Murray. The second event came in 2008 when a German colleague, Joachim Bauer, invited me to collaborate on an English version of his book, Das Kooperative Gen. Although that collaboration did not prove feasible, Joachim’s invitation stimulated me to become serious about completing a book on new ways of thinking about evolution. The 15-year wait was well worth it. An enormous amount of useful molecular genetic and genomic data became available in the interval. These data documented and reinforced views I had developed in my conversations with McClintock and others.
Among the other colleagues who were not direct collaborators but who helped form my views about conceptual developments in biology and details of genome changes, I have to single out Asad Ahmed, Guenther Albrecht-Buehler, Michael Ashburner, Dennis Bray, Sydney Brenner, Gerard Buttin, Allan Campbell, Nancy Craig, Naomi Datta, Harvey Eisen, Hannah Engelberg-Kulka, Shelly Esposito, Michel Faelen, Alex Frisch, Misha Golubovsky, Dan Gottschling, Jim Haber, Fred Heffron, Maurice Hofnung, John Holland, Lynn Margulis, Alfonso Martinez-Arias, Max Mergeay, Matt Meselson, Kiyoshi Mizuuchi, Jacques Monod, Dennis Noble, Phoebe Rice, Ethan Signer, Hewson Swift, Ed Trifonov, Adam Wilkins, and members of the 1979 Nicholas Cozzarelli lab at the University of Chicago, who rigorously but gently critiqued early versions of my molecular model for phage Mu transposition. I have to beg the indulgence of many other colleagues whose interactions and discoveries helped shape my views and hope they will forgive me for not mentioning their names; doing so would make these acknowledgments look like the speaker list of a large international conference.
To my direct collaborators over more than 40 years of research on genome engineering in E. coli, I owe special thanks to Sankhar Adhya, Jon Beckwith, Mike Benedik, Spencer Benson, Gary Boch, Pamela Brinkley, Ahmed Bukhari, Carol Burck, Malcolm Casadaban, Stan Cohen, Nancy Cole, Marty Dworkin, Michel Faelen, Mike Fennewald, Bernhard Hauer, Pat Higgins, Garret Ihler, Karen Ippen-Ihler, Viktor Krylov, Roxanne Laux, David Leach, Lorne MacHattie, Genevieve Maenhaut-Michel, Dani McBeth, Richard Meyer, Carole-Jean Muster, David Owen, Shenaz Rehmat, Peter Sporn, Arianne Toussaint, Rick von Sternberg, and Bernard Witholt. Together with them, I found that E. coli and other organisms held many surprises about what they could do to and with their genomes. Genevieve deserves special distinction for the impressive and highly original series of experiments she performed in the 1990s that clarified many aspects of how E. coli cells responded to oxidative starvation.
I wish to express my gratitude to the organizations that supported my studies and research in bacterial genetics and transposable elements, as well as my thinking on evolutionary processes: The Marshall Aid Commemoration Commission of the United Kingdom, the Wellcome Trust, The Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund, the American Cancer Society, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the American Chemical Society, the Louis Block Fund of the University of Chicago, and the Darwin Prize Trust of the University of Edinburgh.
In the preparation of this book, the help and advice of my literary agent, Georges Borchardt, and of my editor, Kirk Jensen, proved invaluable. Without their help and guidance, this volume would not have seen the light of day. As always, I am indebted to my wife, Joan, for allowing me the freedom to write this book in the summer of 2010, for her outstanding editorial skills, and for providing a loving and intellectually stimulating domestic environment. Finally, I have to thank my children, Jacob and Danielle, for taking such fine care of our home as teenagers while Joan and I were enjoying the 1993 Darwin Professorship in Edinburgh.
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