The Mystery of Metamorphosis

A Scientific Detective Story Frank Ryan
$26.95 • Hardcover ISBN 9781603583411 6 x 9 • 320 pages Pub Date: May 2011

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…A massive paradigm shift in science as told by a brilliant science writer. —Stephan Harding, author of Animate Earth: Science, Intuition and Gaia.

In The Mystery of Metamorphosis, evolutionary biologist and best-selling science writer Frank Ryan leads readers on a thrilling scientific odyssey through the history of one of biology’s most fundamental and captivating puzzles. After all, what can explain the bizarre and spectacular transformation that takes place not only in caterpillars, but in amphibians, marine creatures, and, some argue, pubescent humans, as well? In his quest to uncover what is understood about metamorphosis and what remains unsolved, Ryan delves into the work of past scientific luminaries such as Jean-Henri Fabre, the famed “father of etymology,” and Vincent B. Wigglesworth, who pioneered the understanding of hormonal transformation in insects. Ryan’s journey also leads him to the door of a present-day retired zoologist from the University of Liverpool named Don Williamson who struggled for more than twenty years before his work was finally accepted into the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Williamson’s controversial theory that metamorphosis is not the result of random and gradual mutation, but rather the coupling of two radically different species would, if correct, require a complete reorganization of the field of zoology and would call into question everything that is understood—or presumed to be understood—about evolution. The Mystery of Metamorphosis is at once an objective study grounded in a thorough review of scientific theory and advance as well as a thrilling detective story starring the scientists who have devoted their lives to uncovering the secrets of one of nature’s most compelling mysteries. …Has this not been THE most exciting story in biology? This deeply informed account delves into the fascinating history of the study of metamorphosis. It’s a saga, and Frank Ryan does it justice. —Bernd Heinrich, author of Winter World and Mind of the Raven

Frank Ryan, a physician and evolutionary biologist, is the author of Virolution; Tuberculosis: The Greatest Story Never Told—The Search for the Cure and the New Global Threat (a New York Times Nonfiction Book of the Year); Virus X: Tracking the New Killer Plagues; and Darwin’s Blind Spot: Evolution Beyond Natural Selection. He’s a leading voice on the role of viruses in evolution and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, where he focuses on developing his evolutionary concepts and helps translate evolutionary science into medicine practice. He lives in England and lectures frequently across Europe and in the United States.

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