Losos carefully deconstructs the question and presents evidence for both sides. Early on we get deep into the story of the Burgess shale, whose fossils Conway Morris re-examined with fresh eyes, and which Gould publicised in Wonderful Life (1989). Soon, Losos introduces his own specialty, lizards, and his lifelong study of them. Researches by other evolutionary specialists also pertain the original question, and their personal stories are entertaining.
Losos wants to tackle the question experimentally, so projects like Richard Lenski's years-long culturing of cloned bacteria get close attention. We were delighted to read about the Rothamstead Research Station in England, with some experiments begun more than a century ago. Elsewhere, we especially enjoyed learning about odd species with astonishing features, like the aye-aye of Madagascar, with ever-growing incisors and "an elongate, skeletal middle finger capable of rotating in any directon."
Losos's eventual answer is both — Evolution repeats itself sometimes, but often doesn't. While we enjoyed and recommend the book, we wish the question were treated from a perspective beyond strict darwinism. Most of the evolution probed in detail is micro-evolution, by which we mean evolution attainable with only a few point-mutations, so not forbiddingly improbable. (We were pleased to learn a term for changes requiring no germ-line genetic mutations, "phenotypic plasticity".) When macro-evolution is observed, the genetic changes that may produce it get insufficient attention. Computer models are not mentioned. We wish that evolutionary biologists who are truly curious would ask this question: Where do new genetic programs come from?Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution, by Jonathan B. Losos, 384 pages, Riverhead Books, 08 Aug 2017.
Neo-Darwinism: The Current Paradigm has sections about Punctuated Equilibrium and Convergent Evolution.
Macroevolutionary Progress Redefined... considers micro- and macro-evolution.
A mathematical astronomer from Arkansas proposes a plausible and sobering solution to Fermi's paradox:
Here we argue that ...the typical technological species becomes extinct soon after attaining a modern technology and that this event results in the extinction of the planet's global biosphere.
Implication of our technological species being first and early by Daniel P. Whitmire, International Journal of Astrobiology, online 03 Aug 2017 (+alternate with author's summary).
The Implications of Cosmic Silence, University of Arkansas (+Newswise), 11 Aug 2017.
Gaia has more about the longterm fate of living planets.
Milky Way's Origins Are Not What They Seem, by M. Fellman, Northwestern University (+Newswise), 26 Jul 2017.
Given how much of the matter out of which we formed may have come from other galaxies, we could consider ourselves space travelers or extragalactic immigrants.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus emerged long before the introduction of methicillin into clinical practice by Catriona P. Harkins et al., doi:10.1186/s13059-017-1252-9, Genome Biology, 20 Jul 2017.
Methicillin resistance was out there before methicillin, Nature Research Highlights, 24 Jul 2017.
Metazoan Genes Older Than Metazoa? and Genes Older Than Earth? are related local webpages.
It apears that there is much more cometary material in the Oort Cloud than previously known. Their orbits place these large comets in interstellar space, where they might stray to and from orbits around other nearby stars. This traffic would increase the likelihood of interstellar panspermia.
Large, Distant Comets More Common Than Previously Thought, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA, 25 Jul 2017.
Debiasing the NEOWISE Cryogenic Mission Comet Populations by James M. Bauer et al., n 2, v 154, The Astronomical Journal, 14 Jul 2017.
Comets: The Delivery System has more. Thanks, George Nickas.
Now a comprehensive new study from Japan lists, categorizes and probes many examples of regulatory elements derived from HERVs: Systematic identification and characterization of regulatory elements derived from human endogenous retroviruses by Ito J, Sugimoto R, Nakaoka H, Yamada S, Kimura T, Hayano T, et al., doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1006883, PLoS Genet, uncorrected proof online 12 Jul 2017.
Viruses and Other Gene Transfer Mechanisms has much more about HGT.
The [bacterial] immunity system works just as efficiently as ours, except our system functions at the protein recognition level, whereas CRISPR works at the nucleic acid recognition level — Ailong Ke, professor of molecular biology and genetics, Cornell University
The image shows an aerogel array for collecting dust on NASA's Stardust mission.
Thanks, Chandra Wickramasinghe and Martin Langford.