My favourite paper is a study of microbial landscapes by Stjepko Golubic. This describes the ecology of microbe-populated sabkha (salt flats) and the stromatolites produced by their sedimentation and fossilization. Particularly provoking was a diagram of the kind usually used to show floral variation with elevation — here showing microbial variation over an elevation change of metres, between low and high tide levels.
Paul K. Strother and Elso S. Barghoorn look at fossil evidence from the Archean eon, starting with uncontroversial fossils from around 2 billion years ago and then using that in the interpretation of possible fossils from as far back as 3.4 billion years. Michael McElroy compares the atmospheres of Earth, Venus, and Mars, highlighting how radically the presence of life has changed the Earth's atmosphere from where it would otherwise be. And Tony Swain surveys the function and evolution in plants of semiochemicals such as phenols, terpenoids, and alkaloids.
Among the papers with controversial elements are James Lovelock's 1973 paper "The Gaia Hypothesis" and a paper by Clifford Matthews arguing that hydrogen cyanide polymers were precursors in the formation of the first proteins and nucleic acids. And Lynn Margulis writes about symbiosis in the origin of protists, both the now accepted symbiotic origins of mitochondria and chloroplasts (which she helped to establish) and the still undecided case for a relationship between undilipodia and spirochetes.
Two chapters tackle topics in the history of science: Antonio Lazcano glances at early ideas about the origins of life, looking at Oparin and Herrera as well as Miller and Urey, and Raymond Siever sketches a history of plate tectonics. Other contributions include papers on the origins of membrane structure (David Deamer), the Ediacaran fauna (Mark McMenamin), environmental pollution by inorganic chemicals (Jonathan King), and karyotypic fission in mammalian evolution (Neil Todd).
- Related reviews:
- Lynn Margulis - Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution
- books about chemistry
- books about evolution
- more geology
- books published by The MIT Press