Animal bones

Animal bones

The Garden in the Machine. The Emerging Science of Attiflcial Llfe. By Claus Emmeche. Pp. 199. Princeton University Press, 1994. f18.95 ISBN 0 697 033...

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The Garden in the Machine. The Emerging Science of Attiflcial Llfe. By Claus Emmeche. Pp. 199. Princeton University Press, 1994. f18.95 ISBN 0 697 03330 7. The field of artificial life (a-life) discussed by Claus Emmeche is largely a branch of applied mathematics pursued by computer scientists. Alife is concerned, not with wet biochemistry or real organisms, but with the general principles of ‘life as it could be’. The subject originated from the self-reproducing automata designed by John von Neumann in the late 1940s on the one hand, and from the self-replicating computer virus on the other. From this mixed ancestry derived a variety of computer programs which modelled evolutionary and ecological appearances, leading to the new subject of a-life with its own conferences and a new journal. In view of their virus parentage, these programs are relegated to the memory of a simulated computer, within the actual computer, to preclude any unwanted propagation. An enthusiastic description of the programs and their products, with excellent illustrations, occupy the heart of the book. It is too early to say whether the study of a-life will enrich biology, Emmeche concludes, adding that a-life is essentially a postmodem activity ‘which leads to what one may call a deconstruction of biological science’. S.F Maston

Ancient DNA. Edited by Bemd Herrmann and Susanne Hummel. Pp. 263. SpringerVerlag, Heidelberg, 1994. DM 68.00 (paperback) ISBN 3 540 94308 0. For one who in the early 1970s collected ancient seeds and amber containing fossilized small insects with a hopeful (but unfulfilled) dream of studying their novel DNA, this book is a revelation. What was impossible even 10 years ago has become a reality. Within its multi-authored 17 chapters unfolds the remarkable achievements and future promise that the methodologies of modem molecular biology have brought to investigations of genomes long past. No matter that the DNA is fragmented and only small amounts can be extracted for study, the identity of that individual’s oligonucleotides remains. Now, even a tissue section on a slide from paraffin-embedded blocks of a decreased individual’s biopsy can render up its single viral copy for hybridization and identification - such is the power of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to amplify a given template. Ancient DNA, or aDNA, derives from sources that are no longer alive, whether of recent demise or extinct for millennia. We learn of comparative genetic studies of aDNA samples from the ancient moa bird, from kangaroo rats, from humans preserved for seven to eight thousand years in the Windover ponds of Florida, entombed in the frozen wastes of the Arctic or the Alps, or mummified in the dry of deserts. Nuclear or mitochondrial aDNA from bones, soft tissues, feathers, the seeds of plants or fossilized plant remains have all become sources for genetic evol-

utionary investigations. Museum and pathology specimens of ancestral origin assume a special significance. For amplification of the smallest undergraded sequence of extracted aDNA, a single spore or a single nucleus will do - even for single copy genes. The editors and their authors have very professionally drawn together the problems, the successes and technical details of experimental protocols used for aDNA studies. Archaeologists, anthropologists, plant and animal biologists and medical scientists alike will value this highly readable, clearly presented and important reference text. To all who seek the excitement of this new frontier and to savour the insights that molecular biology has brought to evolution, I commend this book. DaphneJ. Osborne

Beed Germination in Desert Plants. By Y: Gutterman. Pp. 253. Springer-Verlag, Heidelberg, 1994. DM 198.00 (paperback) ISBN 3 540 52562 9. The author transports the reader to the harshness of hot dry lands and the remarkable plants that survive there. Rains do come to deserts, and this book describes a lifetime’s study unravelling mechanisms that ensure long-term seed survival and overcome hazards to germination success. Climate unpredictability is matched by adaptability of species inhabiting these arid terrains. Variety in soils and land formations provides a multitude of microhabitats that over time have generated a spectrum of specific ecogenotypes. Seeds of desert species epitomize the inherent value of individual variation. In seven chapters, this fine monograph describes how factors such as position on the mother plant, day length, light quality and water stress at maturation dictate not only seed form and structure, but dispersal mechanisms and the conditions for that seed’s germination. Seed banks, in the soil or on dead mother plants, change constantly and we learn how ants, birds and mammals (particularly the porcupine) play their part in determining seed dynamics. Most information comes from meticulous studies of Israeli deserts but useful comparisons are drawn with desert species worldwide. The pages are beautifully illustrated, tables and graphs are numerous, and the bibliography extensive. Ecologists and physiologists will value this book; plant science libraries should possess it. DaphneJ. Osborne

These attributes have contributed to making them probably the best-studied species of marine mammal, certainly as far as mating systems, diving behaviour and physiology are concerned. This volume, of 22 chapters contributed by 39 authors, gives ready access for the first time to much of these data. Inevitably there is substantial variation in the scope and quality of the topics tackled, ranging from very broad-scale reviews (of past and present population trends); through syntheses of particular lines of research, reproductive (and population) energetics, sex and agerelated reproductive effort, sexual selection), to detailed accounts of highly specific studies (apnoea in sleep and diving, endocrine dynamics in neonates, functional analysis of dive types). The accounts of diving are almost exclusively from studies of Northern Elephant Seals and would have benefited from a synthetic overview and from critical comparison with similar work on the Southern species; indeed an authoritative concluding chapter for the book, reviewing similarities and differences between the two species, would have been invaluable. Nevertheless specialists and generalists alike will find much of interest in this volume, which certainly represents a milestone in the study of seals.

J.f! Croxall

Animal Bones. By James Rackham. Pp. 64. University of California Press, 1994. US $10.00 ISBN 0 520 08833 6. This guide to the study of animal bones from archaeological sites offers a ‘brief introduction to a large and diverse subject’. That is too modest. The book may be short but it is rich and encompassing, and dry bones come alive here in their role as stimulus to ideas. And what ideas they are. Archaeozoology deals with animals, ecology and change. It gives insights too into some of archaeology’s own great questions - on the shape of early hunting societies, on the explosion of power and food and resources that came from domesticating animals, and on a whole range more. The aim of this guide is to show methods of studying as much as to marshal their results, but the examples which illustrate these methods are chosen with skill and give a mine of structured information from Britain and around the world. The writing is lucid and the figures are clearly explained, and when it comes to specialist words and axioms, a gentle clarification (usually in brackets) gives expert help without breaking the thread of the discussion. There is great vitality in present studies, and this little book shows how and why. Jennifer Bourdillon

Elephant Seals: Population Ecology, Behavlour, and Physlology. Edited by Bumey J. Le Boeuf and Richard Laws. Pp. 4 14. University of California Press, 1994. US $58.00 ISBN 0 520 08364 4.

Human Remains. By Andrew Chamberlain. Pp. 64. University of California Press, 1994. US $10.00 ISBN 0 520 008834.

Among pinnipeds, the two species of elephant seals attract superlatives - largest (size), most extreme (polygyny), deepest and longest (diving).

The Interpreting the Past series are all short, lowcost books, intended as an introduction for a general audience. Human Remains follows this