They mastermind our lives, shaping our features, our health, and our behavior, even in the sacrosanct realms of love and sex, religion, aging, and death. Yet we are the ones who house, perpetuate, and give the promise of immortality to these biological agents, our genetic gods. The link between genes and gods is hardly arbitrary, as the distinguished evolutionary geneticist John Avise reveals in this compelling book. In clear, straightforward terms, Avise reviews recent discoveries in molecular biology, evolutionary genetics, and human genetic engineering, and discusses the relevance of these findings to issues of ultimate concern traditionally reserved for mythology, theology, and religious faith.
The book explains how the genetic gods figure in our development--not just our metabolism and physiology, but even our emotional disposition, personality, ethical leanings, and, indeed, religiosity. Yet genes are physical rather than metaphysical entities. Having arisen via an amoral evolutionary process--natural selection--genes have no consciousness, no sentient code of conduct, no reflective concern about the consequences of their actions. It is Avise's contention that current genetic knowledge can inform our attempts to answer typically religious questions--about origins, fate, and meaning. The Genetic Gods challenges us to make the necessary connection between what we know, what we believe, and what we embody.
Phylogeography is a discipline concerned with various relationships between gene genealogies--phylogenetics--and geography. The word "phylogeography" was coined in 1987, and since then the scientific literature has reflected an exploding interest in the topic. Yet, to date, no book-length treatment of this emerging field has appeared. Phylogeography: The History and Formation of Species fills that gap.
The study of phylogeography grew out of the observation that mitochondrial DNA lineages in natural populations often display distinct geographic orientations. In recent years, the field has expanded to include assessments of nuclear as well as cytoplasmic genomes and the relationships among gene trees, population demography, and organismal history, often formalized as coalescent theory. Phylogeography has connections to molecular evolutionary genetics, natural history, population biology, paleontology, historical geography, and speciation analysis.
Phylogeography captures the conceptual and empirical richness of the field, and also the sense of genuine innovation that phylogeographic perspectives have brought to evolutionary studies.
This book will be essential reading for graduate students and professionals in evolutionary biology and ecology as well as for anyone interested in the emergence of this new and integrative discipline.