The Major Transitions in Evolution
The Major Transitions in Evolution is a book written by John Maynard Smith and Eörs Szathmáry (Oxford University Press, 1995). This was a seminal publication that continues to contribute to ongoing issues in evolutionary biology.
|Transitions described in the book|
|Transition from:||Transition to:||Notes|
|Replicating molecules||"Populations" of molecules in compartments||Can't observe|
|Independent replicators (probably RNA)||Chromosomes||RNA world hypothesis|
|RNA as both genes and enzymes||DNA as genes; proteins as enzymes|
|Asexual clones||Sexual populations||Evolution of sex|
|Protists||Multicellular organisms — animals, plants, fungi||Evolution of multicellularity|
|Solitary individuals||Colonies with non-reproductive castes||Evolution of eusociality|
|Primate societies||Human societies with language, enabling memes||Sociocultural evolution|
Maynard Smith and Szathmary identified several properties common to the transitions:
- Smaller entities have often come about together to form larger entities. e.g. Chromosomes, eukaryotes, sex multicellular colonies.
- Smaller entities often become differentiated as part of a larger entity. e.g. DNA & protein, organelles, anisogamy, tissues, castes
- The smaller entities are often unable to replicate in the absence of the larger entity. e.g. Organelles, tissues, castes
- The smaller entities can sometimes disrupt the development of the larger entity, e.g. Meiotic drive (selfish non-Mendelian genes), parthenogenesis, cancers, coup d’état
- New ways of transmitting information have arisen.e.g. DNA-protein, cell heredity, epigenesis, universal grammar.
As stated by the authors, this book was aimed at professional biologists and assumes considerable prior knowledge. They have also published a presentation of their ideas for a general readership under the title The Origins of Life - From the Birth of Life to the Origins of Language.
See also 
- Evolutionary history of life
- Metasystem transition, a related notion developed by Valentin Turchin in 1977.
- Origin of life
- Social evolution
- Maynard Smith, John; Eörs Szathmáry (1995). The Major Transitions in Evolution. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-850294-X.
- Sterelny, Kim (2007). Dawkins Vs Gould: Survival of the Fittest. Cambridge, U.K.: Icon Books. ISBN 1-84046-780-0. Also ISBN 978-1-84046-780-2
- Benton, Michael (2009). "Paleontology and the History of Life". In Michael Ruse & Joseph Travis. Evolution: The First Four Billion Years. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. pp. 80–104. ISBN 978-0-674-03175-3.
- Smith, John Maynard; Szathmáry, Eörs (2000). The origins of life : from the birth of life to the origin of language (1st ed. ed.). Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. ISBN 978-0-19-286209-9.