Cradle of Life The Discovery of Earth's Earliest Fossils

ISBN-10: 0691088640

ISBN-13: 9780691088648

Edition: 2001

List price: $45.00 Buy it from $3.10
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Description: One of the greatest mysteries in reconstructing the history of life on Earth has been the apparent absence of fossils dating back more than 550 million years. We have long known that fossils of sophisticated marine life-forms existed at the dawn of the Cambrian Period, but until recently scientists had found no traces of Precambrian fossils. The quest to find such traces began in earnest in the mid-1960s and culminated in one dramatic moment in 1993 when William Schopf identified fossilized microorganisms three and a halfbillionyears old. This startling find opened up a vast period of time--some eighty-five percent of Earth's history--to new research and new ideas about life's beginnings. In this book, William Schopf, a pioneer of modern paleobiology, tells for the first time the exciting and fascinating story of the origins and earliest evolution of life and how that story has been unearthed. Gracefully blending his personal story of discovery with the basics needed to understand the astonishing science he describes, Schopf has produced an introduction to paleobiology for the interested reader as well as a primer for beginning students in the field. He considers such questions as how did primitive bacteria, pond scum, evolve into the complex life-forms found at the beginning of the Cambrian Period? How do scientists identify ancient microbes and what do these tiny creatures tell us about the environment of the early Earth? (And, in a related chapter, Schopf discusses his role in the controversy that swirls around recent claims of fossils in the famed meteorite from Mars.) Like all great teachers, Schopf teaches the non-specialist enough about his subject along the way that we can easily follow his descriptions of the geology, biology, and chemistry behind these discoveries. Anyone interested in the intriguing questions of the origins of life on Earth and how those origins have been discovered will find this story the best place to start.

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Book details

List price: $45.00
Copyright year: 2001
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 4/9/2001
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 392
Size: 6.50" wide x 9.00" long x 1.00" tall
Weight: 1.386
Language: English

Prologue
Acknowledgments
Darwin's Dilemma
Breakthrough to the Ancient Past
The Nature of Geologic Time
The "Schoolbook" History of Life
Darwin's Dilemma
Denouement
Birth of a New Field of Science
The Floodgates Crack Open
Famous Figures Enter the Field
A Youngster Joins the Fray
The Floodgates Open Full Bore
The Oldest Fossils and What They Mean
"Trust but Verify"
"Real World Problems" in the Search for Early Life
Questions and Answers about the Oldest Records of Life
The Oldest Fossils Known
How Did Life Begin?
The Basics of Biology
The Universals of Life
How Did Monomers of CHON Arise on the Lifeless Earth?
Organic Monomers beyond the Earth
How Did Monomers Become Linked into Polymers?
From Monomers to Polymers toward Life
Metabolic Memories of the Earliest Cells
How Did Cells Begin?
The Essentials of Life
Life's Earliest Way to Make a Living
Air and Light: A New Source of Glucose
Why Do We Breathe Oxygen?
The Four-Stage Development of Modern Metabolism
So Far, So Fast, So Early?
How Old Is the Modern Ecosystem?
When Did Life Begin?
How Did Evolution Proceed So Far, So Fast, So Early?
Paleobiology: Fossils, Geology, and Geochemistry
Isotopic Evidence of Ancient Metabolisms
Paleobiology: Direct Evidence of Early Evolution
Stromatolites: Earth's First High-Rise Condos
Nature Is Not Compartmentalized
Stromatolites: Earth's First High-Rise Condos
Stromatolites of the Geologic Past
What Are Stromatolites Good For?
Cyanobacteria: Earth's Oldest "Living Fossils"
Modes and Tempos in the Evolution of Life
The Status Quo Evolution of Cyanobacteria
Evolution's Most Successful Ecologic Generalists
Cells Like Ours Arise at Last
Life Like Us Has Cells Like Ours
DNA and Development: Keys to Eukaryotic Success
How Old Are the Eukaryotes?
Eukaryotes Perfect the Art of Cloning
Sex: A New Lifestyle Brings Major Change
The Wax and Wane of Precambrian Acritarchs
Prelude to the Phanerozoic
Solution to Darwin's Dilemma
The Adventure of Science
Take-Home Lessons
Solution to Darwin's Dilemma
Epilogue: Extraordinary Claims! Extraordinary Evidence?
Fossils, Foibles, and Frauds
The Goal Is to "Get It Right"
"Man, a Witness of the Deluge"
Beringer's Lying Stones
Theories on the Nature of Fossils
Unearthing a Rosetta Stone
The Hunt for Life on Mars
Hints of Ancient Martian Life?
NASA Stages a Press Conference
Meteorites from Mars
Search for the Smoking Gun
Lessons from the Hunt
Glossary
Further Reading
Index of Geologic Units and General and Species
Subject Index
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