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Cradle of Life: The Discovery of Earth's Earliest Fossils

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Cradle of Life: The Discovery of Earth's Earliest Fossils Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

One of the greatest mysteries in reconstructing the history of life on Earth has been the apparent absence of fossils dating back more than 550 million years. We have long known that fossils of sophisticated marine life-forms existed at the dawn of the Cambrian Period, but until recently scientists had found no traces of Precambrian fossils. The quest to find such traces began in earnest in the mid-1960s and culminated in one dramatic moment in 1993 when William Schopf identified fossilized microorganisms three and a half billion years old. This startling find opened up a vast period of time--some eighty-five percent of Earth's history--to new research and new ideas about life's beginnings. In this book, William Schopf, a pioneer of modern paleobiology, tells for the first time the exciting and fascinating story of the origins and earliest evolution of life and how that story has been unearthed.

Gracefully blending his personal story of discovery with the basics needed to understand the astonishing science he describes, Schopf has produced an introduction to paleobiology for the interested reader as well as a primer for beginning students in the field. He considers such questions as how did primitive bacteria, pond scum, evolve into the complex life-forms found at the beginning of the Cambrian Period? How do scientists identify ancient microbes and what do these tiny creatures tell us about the environment of the early Earth? (And, in a related chapter, Schopf discusses his role in the controversy that swirls around recent claims of fossils in the famed meteorite from Mars.) Like all great teachers, Schopf teaches the non-specialist enough about his subject along the way that we can easily follow his descriptions of the geology, biology, and chemistry behind these discoveries. Anyone interested in the intriguing questions of the origins of life on Earth and how those origins have been discovered will find this story the best place to start.

Synopsis:

"'I am born,' writes Dicken's David Copperfield, in simple statement of fact. Our knowledge of how the first cells and organisms were begotten is far less resolute. With focused vision, Cradle of Life probes one view of primordial Earth and the succor of its first cells and organisms, even as scientists explore and assemble evidence to advocate other possibilities. Schopf engages the reader with the magic of storytelling as he writes about such matters as the fables and foibles of scientists, the demands of discovery and documentation in attaining an understanding of how life evolved, the tempo of evolution, and, of course, the continuing saga of the Mars rocks."--Cindy Lee Van Dover, author of Deep-Ocean Journeys

"An entertaining and informative book. It provides an interesting perspective on how science is done. . . . Schopf's personal perspective provides a sense of the personalities involved and engages the reader. . . ."--Dawn Y. Sumner, University of California, Davis

Synopsis:

One of the greatest mysteries in reconstructing the history of life on Earth has been the apparent absence of fossils dating back more than 550 million years. We have long known that fossils of sophisticated marine life-forms existed at the dawn of the Cambrian Period, but until recently scientists had found no traces of Precambrian fossils. The quest to find such traces began in earnest in the mid-1960s and culminated in one dramatic moment in 1993 when William Schopf identified fossilized microorganisms three and a half billion years old. This startling find opened up a vast period of time--some eighty-five percent of Earth's history--to new research and new ideas about life's beginnings. In this book, William Schopf, a pioneer of modern paleobiology, tells for the first time the exciting and fascinating story of the origins and earliest evolution of life and how that story has been unearthed.

Gracefully blending his personal story of discovery with the basics needed to understand the astonishing science he describes, Schopf has produced an introduction to paleobiology for the interested reader as well as a primer for beginning students in the field. He considers such questions as how did primitive bacteria, pond scum, evolve into the complex life-forms found at the beginning of the Cambrian Period? How do scientists identify ancient microbes and what do these tiny creatures tell us about the environment of the early Earth? (And, in a related chapter, Schopf discusses his role in the controversy that swirls around recent claims of fossils in the famed meteorite from Mars.) Like all great teachers, Schopf teaches the non-specialist enough about his subject along the way that we can easily follow his descriptions of the geology, biology, and chemistry behind these discoveries. Anyone interested in the intriguing questions of the origins of life on Earth and how those origins have been discovered will find this story the best place to start.

About the Author

J. William Schopf, a member of the Department of Earth and Space Sciences, the Molecular Biology Institute, and the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP) at the University of California, Los Angeles, is Professor of Paleobiology and Director of the IGPP Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life. A Member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he is the recipient of medals from the National Science Board, the National Academy of Sciences, and the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life. He has also been awarded national book prizes for two edited volumes on life's earliest evolution, an Alexander von Humboldt Senior Research Prize, and two Guggenheim Fellowships.

Table of Contents

Prologue xi

Acknowledgments xv

Chapter 1. Darwin's Dilemma 3

Breakthrough to the Ancient Past 3

The Nature of Geologic Time 4

The "Schoolbook" History of Life 10

Darwin's Dilemma 13

Denouement 34

Chapter 2. Birth of a New Field of Science 35

The Floodgates Crack Open 35

Famous Figures Enter the Field 48

A Youngster Joins the Fray 52

The Floodgates Open Full Bore 61

Chapter 3. The Oldest Fossils and What They Mean 71

"Trust but Verify" 71

"Real World Problems" in the Search for Early Life 71

Questions and Answers about the Oldest Records of Life 75

The Oldest Fossils Known 99

Chapter 4. How Did Life Begin? 101

The Basics of Biology 101

The Universals of Life 107

How Did Monomers of CHON Arise on the Lifeless Earth? 108

Organic Monomers beyond the Earth 131

How Did Monomers Become Linked into Polymers? 134

From Monomers to Polymers toward Life 138

Chapter 5. Metabolic Memories of the Earliest Cells 139

How Did Cells Begin? 139

The Essentials of Life 143

Life's Earliest Way to Make a Living 150

Air and Light: A New Source of Glucose 155

Why Do We Breathe Oxygen? 158

The Four-Stage Development of Modern Metabolism 161

Chapter 6. So Far, So Fast, So Early? 164

How Old Is the Modern Ecosystem? 164

When Did Life Begin? 166

How Did Evolution Proceed So Far, So Fast, So Early? 168

Paleobiology: Fossils, Geology, and Geochemistry 169

Isotopic Evidence of Ancient Metabolisms 173

Paleobiology: Direct Evidence of Early Evolution 181

Chapter 7. Stromatolites: Earth's First High-Rise Condos 183

Nature Is Not Compartmentalized 183

Stromatolites: Earth's First High-Rise Condos 184

Stromatolites of the Geologic Past 195

What Are Stromatolites Good For? 201

Chapter 8. Cyanobacteria: Earth's Oldest "Living Fossils" 209

Modes and Tempos in the Evolution of Life 209

The Status Quo Evolution of Cyanobacteria 215

Evolution's Most Successful Ecologic Generalists 231

Chapter 9. Cells Like Ours Arise at Last 236

Life Like Us Has Cells Like Ours 236

DNA and Development: Keys to Eukaryotic Success 237

How Old Are the Eukaryotes? 240

Eukaryotes Perfect the Art of Cloning 243

Sex: A New Lifestyle Brings Major Change 246

The Wax and Wane of Precambrian Acritarchs 252

Prelude to the Phanerozoic 259

Chapter 10. Solution to Darwin's Dilemma 264

The Adventure of Science 264

Take-Home Lessons 269

Solution to Darwin's Dilemma 269

EPILOGUE

EXTRAORDINARY CLAIMS!

EXTRAORDINARY EVIDENCE? 279

Chapter 11. Fossils, Foibles, and Frauds 281

The Goal Is to "Get It Right" 281

"Man, a Witness of the Deluge" 282

Beringer's Lying Stones 291

Theories on the Nature of Fossils 299

Unearthing a Rosetta Stone 303

Chapter 12. The Hunt for Life on Mars 304

Hints of Ancient Martian Life? 304

NASA Stages a Press Conference 306

Meteorites from Mars 310

Search for the Smoking Gun 313

Lessons from the Hunt 324

Glossary 327

Further Reading 349

Index of Geologic Units and Genera and Species 357

Subject Index 361

Product Details

ISBN:
9780691088648
Author:
Schopf, J. William
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Location:
Princeton
Subject:
Evolution
Subject:
Microbiology
Subject:
Paleontology
Subject:
Life Sciences - Evolution
Subject:
Life Sciences - Biology - Microbiology
Subject:
Earth Sciences
Subject:
Biological Sciences.
Subject:
History of Science and Medicine, Philosophy of Science
Subject:
Geological Science
Subject:
Geology-Paleontology
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
March 2001
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
College/higher education:
Language:
English
Illustrations:
8 color plates 80 halftones 68 line illu
Pages:
336
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in 23 oz

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Related Subjects

Science and Mathematics » Biology » Evolution
Science and Mathematics » Biology » General
Science and Mathematics » Biology » Microbiology
Science and Mathematics » Environmental Studies » General
Science and Mathematics » Geology » Earth Sciences
Science and Mathematics » Geology » Paleontology
Science and Mathematics » Physics

Cradle of Life: The Discovery of Earth's Earliest Fossils New Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$45.25 In Stock
Product details 336 pages Princeton University Press - English 9780691088648 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , "'I am born,' writes Dicken's David Copperfield, in simple statement of fact. Our knowledge of how the first cells and organisms were begotten is far less resolute. With focused vision, Cradle of Life probes one view of primordial Earth and the succor of its first cells and organisms, even as scientists explore and assemble evidence to advocate other possibilities. Schopf engages the reader with the magic of storytelling as he writes about such matters as the fables and foibles of scientists, the demands of discovery and documentation in attaining an understanding of how life evolved, the tempo of evolution, and, of course, the continuing saga of the Mars rocks."--Cindy Lee Van Dover, author of Deep-Ocean Journeys

"An entertaining and informative book. It provides an interesting perspective on how science is done. . . . Schopf's personal perspective provides a sense of the personalities involved and engages the reader. . . ."--Dawn Y. Sumner, University of California, Davis

"Synopsis" by , One of the greatest mysteries in reconstructing the history of life on Earth has been the apparent absence of fossils dating back more than 550 million years. We have long known that fossils of sophisticated marine life-forms existed at the dawn of the Cambrian Period, but until recently scientists had found no traces of Precambrian fossils. The quest to find such traces began in earnest in the mid-1960s and culminated in one dramatic moment in 1993 when William Schopf identified fossilized microorganisms three and a half billion years old. This startling find opened up a vast period of time--some eighty-five percent of Earth's history--to new research and new ideas about life's beginnings. In this book, William Schopf, a pioneer of modern paleobiology, tells for the first time the exciting and fascinating story of the origins and earliest evolution of life and how that story has been unearthed.

Gracefully blending his personal story of discovery with the basics needed to understand the astonishing science he describes, Schopf has produced an introduction to paleobiology for the interested reader as well as a primer for beginning students in the field. He considers such questions as how did primitive bacteria, pond scum, evolve into the complex life-forms found at the beginning of the Cambrian Period? How do scientists identify ancient microbes and what do these tiny creatures tell us about the environment of the early Earth? (And, in a related chapter, Schopf discusses his role in the controversy that swirls around recent claims of fossils in the famed meteorite from Mars.) Like all great teachers, Schopf teaches the non-specialist enough about his subject along the way that we can easily follow his descriptions of the geology, biology, and chemistry behind these discoveries. Anyone interested in the intriguing questions of the origins of life on Earth and how those origins have been discovered will find this story the best place to start.

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