A Best Book of the Year Seed Magazine • Granta Magazine • The Plain-Dealer In 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.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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|Title of eBook: Microcosm|
|Release Date: 05-06-2008|
|Allowed Countries (hover)|
|Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
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I GAZE OUT A WINDOW, a clear, puck-shaped box in my hand. Life fills my view: fescue and clover spreading out across the yard, rose of Sharon holding out leaves to catch sunlight and flowers to lure bumblebees. An orange cat lurks under a lilac bush, gazing up at an oblivious goldfinch. Snowy egrets and seagulls fly overhead. Stinkhorns and toadstools rudely surprise. All of these things have something in common with one another, something not found in rocks or rivers, in tugboats or thumbtacks. They live.
The fact that they live may be obvious, but what it means for them to be alive is not. How do all of the molecules in a snowy egret work together to keep it alive? That's a good question, made all the better by the fact that scientists have decoded only a few snips of snowy egret DNA. Most other species on Earth are equally mysterious. We don't even know all that much about ourselves. We can now read the entire human genome, all 3.5 billion base pairs of DNA in which the recipe for Homo sapiens is written. Within this genetic tome, scientists have identified about 18,000 genes, each of which encodes proteins that build our bodies. And yet scientists have no idea what a third of those genes are for and only a faint understanding of most of the others. Our ignorance actually reaches far beyond protein-coding genes. They take up only about 2 percent of the human genome. The other 98 percent of our DNA is a barely explored wilderness.
Only a few species on the entire planet are exceptions to this rule. The biggest exception lives in the plastic box in my hand. The box-a petri dish-looks lifeless compared with the biological riot outside my window. A