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Science Books

January 26, 2006

Genes in Conflict: The Biology of Selfish Genetic Elements
Austin Burt, Robert Trivers (2006)
ISBN: 0674017137

Evolution shows that many genes survive among a species because they benefit their host's ability to survive and reproduce. Two seasoned and brilliant researchers, however, show that some harmful, counterproductive genes are also passed on, despite the potential damage to the host organism. Austin Burt, Professor of Evolutionary Genetics, Imperial College London, and Robert Trivers, Professor of Anthropology and Biological Sciences, Rutgers University, claim that these genes survive by distorting their own transmission to the next generation, or by changing how the host behaves toward relatives. This leaves the organism in a rather peculiar situation, as it has genes at odds with one another - genes that are working toward different benefits and adaptations. Genes in Conflict encompasses all species from "yeast to humans," as it describes the life and adaptability of the selfish gene that puts itself before that of the entire host organism. The numerous counter-adaptations detected among such a comprehensive range of species demonstrate that genetic conflict within a single organism is a common aspect of life. Discussions on topics such as the "female drive" and "the hidden world of selfish genetic elements" lead to the realization that the diffusion of damaging genes has manifested a planet full of socio-genetic relations without us being aware of it happening. In Genes in Conflict, Burt and Trivers open up a world of hot new science that has been touted as the next big thing. A mind-expanding read that is an important addition to the field of genetics and evolution.

Sperm Wars: Infidelity, Sexual Conflict, and Other Bedroom Battles
Robin Baker (2006)
ISBN: 1560258489

When you think of sperm wars you might think of millions of spermatozoa racing one another to fertilize the egg, their ultimate goal; but you'd be wrong. Zoologist Robin Baker claims that it is not one man's sperm that are at war with each other, but rather one man's sperm pitted against another's. Without us even being aware of it, evolution has fixed things so that men want to dominate and control women, while women supposedly select their partners from the best in the gene pool. Baker feels pretty sure that sperm competition can explain just about everything between the sexes; from male peacock feathers to the latest women's fashions. This, says Baker, is because almost everything that men and women do around one another can be viewed in terms of trying to promote sperm competition. Sperm Wars provides new and varied statistics to support these bold claims, such as the fact that 10 percent of children are not fathered by their "fathers;" or that less than one percent of a man's sperm is capable of fertilizing anything (the rest are there to fight off all the other men's sperm). After measuring the size of testes, Baker found that men with bigger testes were more likely to be unfaithful to their partners. Another experiment showed that a woman is far more likely to conceive through a casual fling than through sex with her regular partner. This surprising and occasionally humorous take on the evolutionary process reminds us that deep down we're all animals motivated by our deepest, sometimes unknown, desires.

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