The Third Culture

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Edge 66

A Talk With Steve Jones [3.27.00]

Introduction by
John Brockman

Steve Jones is a highly regarded geneticist and snail biologist. He is interested in why so much diversity exists in animals and plants: why no two individuals are alike. Surely, it can be argued, natural selection should instead inevitably lead to the evolution of one perfect form for each species. He works on the striking variety of shell color and banding patterns in the land snail Cepaea nemoralis. Cepaea has been seen as an archetype of diversity since the nineteenth century. In the 1950s, the English biologists Arthur Cain and Phillip Sheppard argued that such apparently trivial differences were under the action of natural selection (in this case because birds would attack the conspicuous forms). Jones finds that climate is also involved and — most important — that differences in microclimate on the scale of a few inches can alter the behavior and survival of snails of different pattern. Ecologically complex habitats hence foster genetic diversity. Jones has been writing and lecturing about science to a general audience for fifteen years. His book, The Language of the Genes won the 1994 Science Book Prize.

— JB

STEVE JONES is a biologist; Professor of Genetics at the Galton Laboratory of University College London; coeditor (with Robert Martin and David Pilbeam) of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution; author of In the Blood; The Language of the Genes: Biology, History, and the Evolutionary Future; and Darwin's Ghost: The Origin of Species Updated (forthcoming in April).

Further Reading on Edge:

Chapter 5, "Why Is There So Much Genetic Diversity?" in The Third Culture.

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