Symbiotic Planet by Lynn Margulis

by stephenpalmersf

Lynn Margulis’ Symbiotic Planet is another of those ‘pre Cambrian Explosion’ books which so inspire me. One of these days I really will get around to writing the Green Trilogy, which explores the very far future of life on Earth… but probably not for a while.

Symbiotic Planet is a wide-ranging, comprehensive, beautifully written and opinionated book about the way microscopic life evolved in the years between around 4 billion years ago and 541 million years ago. Central to Margulis’ case is the idea (radical and mocked when she suggested it) that small organisms entered into symbiotic relationships with one another over the course of immense periods of time. The mitochondria of eukaryotic cells for instance – which have their own DNA – were once free-floating organisms; but there is much more to her work than such observations.

This book covers the academic life of scientists, the nature of the classification of the kingdoms of life, the processes of incorporation, the possible origins of life, the nature and history of sexual reproduction, and a final chapter on Gaia.

Margulis has faced a few obstacles in her scientific life, partly because of being a woman, partly because of being married to Carl Sagan (at a very young age), and partly through her association with James Lovelock. None of this should make any difference to the reader. Her case is thorough, researched and compelling. Readers of Nick Lane’s work would particularly like this book I think, as the two authors have much in common. Short, but sweet.