Chapter 35 : A New Age of Naturalists

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Charles Darwin and other naturalists of his time traversed the globe to survey the diversity of plants, animals, and insects and their distributions around the world. They combined these surveys with their contemporary understanding about the history of Earth to develop an evolutionary model for the origins of species through natural selection. One hundred fifty years later, microbial naturalists are uncovering a whole new world of diversity that will lead to a sea change in our understanding of evolution. Initial surveys of microbial diversity suggested that microbes did not fit this conventional model of evolution. Microbial naturalists were unable to identify mechanisms that would disconnect microbial populations from one another. Our initial analyses suggest that primary differences come not from natural selection by abiotic environmental variables between locations, but from interactions between microbes in each location, specifically between and its viruses and other microbial parasites. The study of microbial evolution lags behind that of macroorganisms, and it seems that there are relatively few microbiologists choosing microbial naturalism. It is clear that the new generation of microbial naturalists who set out to explore the distribution of natural diversity now wields not only the strong lens of genomics but also the power of molecular biology and genetics, which will enable them to discover the fundamental laws of evolution that apply to all of life on Earth.

Citation: Whitaker R. 2012. A New Age of Naturalists, p 255-261. In Kolter R, Maloy S (ed), Microbes and Evolution. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818470.ch35
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