The Evolutionary Origins of Life and Death

As the Fall Equinox approaches this week, we take a look at the evolutionary role death holds in multicellular life

The Evolutionary Origins of Life and Death

Durand, Pierre M. Chicago, 2021
232p bibl index, 9780226747620 $105.00, 9780226747767 $35.00, 9780226747934 $26.99

The Evolutionary Origins of Life and Death book cover. Black bolded text over white background.

Life, death, evolution: three of the most important concepts in biology, yet difficult (if not impossible) to define thoroughly. That life is connected to death, and to evolution, is incontrovertible. But what might be the connection between death and evolution? That is, might death be an adaptation? That’s the startling conclusion reached by Durand (Univ. of the Witwatersrand) in this brief volume, which combines philosophy, biological theory, and empirical science in often thrilling ways. Durand argues that group selection not only underlies the steps from self-assembling molecules to true cellular life, but also directs the steps that result in programmed cell death. Death, therefore, is not simply cessation of life, but a process that has coevolved with life. While this argument is illustrated with findings from the unicellular world, the meaning of adaptive death to multicellular life is implied throughout: Programmed cell death is necessary for the development of multicellular organisms, but Durand also finds that the death of a multicellular organism may be a programmed event. Durand thinks big thoughts but is careful, in his prose, to involve readers whose interest in theoretical biology exceeds their grasp. A very important book.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates. Graduate students, faculty and professionals. General readers.
Reviewer: S. K. Sommers Smith, Boston University
Subject: Science & Technology – Biology
Choice Issue: Nov 2021

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