Francisco Ayala is a Macro-phyle

Or is he micro-phobe?

Nature Genetics has published a mostly positive review of the new Evolution textbook by Nick Barton and others (the others include blogger Jonathan Eisen) The review is penned by Francisco Ayala. Among the things Ayala brings up is the coverage various taxa receive:

Surprisingly, however, five of the nine chapters of Part II are dedicated to the history of microbial evolution, and only one chapter deals with the diversification of plants and animals.

So, of the nine chapters in Part II, six deal with particular groups of organisms. Of those six, five focus on microbial evolution. That’s 83%, which seems fair given that microbes probably make up more than 83% of life on earth. Do we know so much more about animal and plant evolution that they deserve over 20% of the taxon specific material? I wonder what Jonathan Eisen thinks; after all, he studies microbial evolution.


  1. #1 Jonathan Eisen
    September 27, 2007

    1. The review is really more than mostly positive. He says two of the chapters (including one I wrote most of) are “priceless”. He also has lots of other superlatives – he titles the review “A textbook for all seasons” and he uses words like “superb” and “incisive” etc to describe the book. So I personally LOVE this review.

    2. Many of his other “criticisms” are, as he admits, mostly editorial and can be fixed in the next edition.

    3. Given #1 and #2 above, I am trying so *%$# hard to keep my mouth shut about the microbe thing. But here are some comments:

    a. In principle, I think microbes should make up more than 90% of the discussion in any reasonably balanced evolution or biology textbook

    b. We did not even come close to my goal since Ayala’s counting of microbial chapters is inaacurate. Here are the topics of those Chapters

    4 – Origin of life (No specific focus on microbes here)
    5 – LUCA and the tree of life (sure – this seems to be specifically about microbes but that is not the fault of the microbes — they simply run the tree of life)
    6 – Bacteria and archaeal diversity (OK, THIS is about microbes)
    7 – Bacterial and archaeal genomes (OK, this too is about microbes)
    8 – Origin and diversification of eukaryotes (like Chapter 5 on LUCA I do not count this as a microbial chapter. It is not the fault of the microbes that they were here first).
    9 – Multicellularity and development (mostly NOT about microbes)
    10 – Plants and animals
    11 – Evolution of development (mostly about plants and animals)

    So by my count there are two microbial chapters

    There are two chapters that focus on times in evolution when microbes ruled

    There is one chapter about molecules (4 – origin of life), which are small but not microbes

    There are three chapters predominantly about non mirobes
    9, 10, 11

    So despite my attempts to have microbes be the topic of every chapter – I lost.

  2. #2 RPM
    September 27, 2007

    It is a pretty glowing review, and, aside from the jab on microbes, the criticisms are directed at more editorial issues.

    Thanks for offering a response.

  3. #3 Chris Harrison
    September 27, 2007

    I’m really enjoying the textbook. Granted I’ve only made it into chapter 8 so far.

    Not quite as readable as a general biology textbook, but then again, that’s to be expected since this is not meant to just gloss over the main topics and concepts.

    I really like this historical aspects, which are especially prominent in chapter 2 “The origin of molecular biology”.

    Great stuff. Now if only the rest of school would get out of the way so I’d have more time to read it.

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