Reviewed by Jean Worsley
Retired Biology Teacher
This is a thought–provoking book describing the role we are playing in the evolutionary future of ecosystems on the planet. The author stresses that as caretakers we should seriously accept responsibility for our actions and decisions in order to insure a sustainable earth for future generations. A concise presentation recaptures the wonder and splendor of nature while explaining that all of nature—animate and inanimate—is interconnected.
The author outlines ten lines of evidence of evolution in all areas of our existence that are often denied or ignored. With advancements in civilization, the author states that many ecosystems have been degraded or destroyed resulting in a decline in the biodiversity of nature. Throughout the book, readers will discover the wonders and pitfalls of reinventing life.
The theme for each part is introduced with an epigraph. Following the introduction, four parts are outlined with an array of subtopics: Ecological Change, Cellular Change, Genetic Change, and Reinventing Life. In each topic, the author relates and explains how we have influenced evolutionary processes of nature. Readers will be amazed to discover the ways in which we reinvent life each day. More important is the discussion of how our impact on the ecosystem has affected the biodiversity of life due to pollution of the air, water, and soil, destruction of habitats, and extinction of several species. Readers will see the value of learning how lifestyles and species bring changes in the environment and that we are all part of the environment. Throughout, emphasis is placed on the fact that all living things are interconnected with the environment and that sustainability of our planet is incumbent on living in harmony with nature. Five choices are suggested that will impact the future and lead either to greater degradation, preservation, or restoration of ecosystems. These choices are broad, however, the principles listed appear to have worldwide credibility.
The focus shifts to ways we intentionally and unintentionally reinvent life by manipulating growth and cell division. These include selective breeding of crops, livestock, and pets for more desirable traits and productivity. Also, it is noted how human growth has changed significantly over the years in many countries. Further, many species have been altered by selective pressures on the environment. It is of special interest to learn that we have been major players in the evolution of resistant pathogens and other organisms in an effort to control and cure diseases. Regenerative medicine and natural cloning are also explored. Additional information describes successful manmade clones and the controversy of cloning humans and extinct species. With some reservation, dangers associated with these processes are brought to the forefront. Reminders are constant throughout of the importance of living in harmony with nature.
"We are all mutants" is a statement that may be disconcerting to many, however, vital evidence is provided to support this statement. An in–depth discussion explores causes and effects of mutations and how we have moved away from natural selection by altering mutations. This knowledge has led to another arena of reinventing life with enormous potential—genetic engineering. Around the world, numerous crops, livestock, and domesticated animals have been modified by this technique. In addition, engineered drugs and techniques to reverse harmful mutations are highlighted. It is predicted that in the future, genetic engineering may have profound effects in many areas of our lives such as sports, military operations, and alternative energy resources. A discussion on reproductive options, risks, and implications for our future is delineated, including human trait selection. Again we learn that we have the ability to reinvent life and it is suggested that man’s ethics, not his scientific capabilities, should determine these decisions.
Another interesting aspect of reinventing life examines how we are on the dawn of virtual beings as we interface with machines. Consequently, we are faced with the question "What does it mean to be 'human'?" Think about the amount of time we spend on machines and envision all of the superpowers we are able to achieve with them. A detailed description of replacing human parts with machines, and Brain–Machine Interfaces (BMIs) will cause readers to think seriously about how we are reinventing life. Is reinventing life the beginning of a cosmic revolution? With scientific and technological advances, space exploration and what we have learned about the diversity and evolution of life on earth, the author states that we have the tools and it may be our responsibility to spread life to other galaxies. Finally, the bar is raised as ten questions are listed that challenge us to take the banner in this constant process of reinventing life. Readers are left with the idea that they have choices about how life will be reinvented.
At the end of the book the reader can find acknowledgments, references for each topic, and facts about the author. The author states that this book is written for thoughtful people in all walks of life who care about their impact on the future. This is an excellent resource for ecological seminars and for any group interested in the survival of life on our planet.
Review posted on 5/30/2012