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. At the time of its publication, Egbert Giles Leigh, Jr reviewing for Evolution commented that it "may be the most important book on evolution since [R.A.] Fisher's (1930) The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection".
|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 Szathmáry 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.
- Evolutionary history of life
- Metasystem transition, a related notion developed by Valentin Turchin in 1977.
- Origin of life
- Social evolution
- Maynard Smith, John; Szathmáry, Eörs (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 Ruse, Michael; Travis, Joseph. Evolution: The First Four Billion Years. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. pp. 80–104. ISBN 978-0-674-03175-3.
- Brett Calcott and Kim Sterelny (eds) The Major Transitions in Evolution Revisited http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/major-transitions-evolution-revisited
- Nature 1995 vol 374 pp 227-232 doi:10.1038/374227a0
- Maynard Smith, John; Szathmáry, Eörs (2000). The origins of life : from the birth of life to the origin of language (1st ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-286209-9.