The Extended Organism


One of the reasons I started this blog was to write about books I think are amazing, but others haven’t quite latched on to.

One of these is JM Scott-Turner’s The Extended Organism. I found the book quite by random, wandering around the shelves of Foyle’s in London looking for a book to explain how termites built their amazing nests. This book explains termites, as well as other wonders of nature, although it is quite scientifically demanding.

The main idea of the book is to take Richard Dawkin’s The Extended Phenotype one step further. Whereas genes improved the survivability of an organism in that book this look at how various invertebrates make use of their surrounding environment in amazing ways. The organism extends making using of the environmental physiology. A lot of this is to do with concentrations of chemicals, one of the main energetic demands of these organisms. Those that have evolved to to harness the environment, rather than just fight against it have a distinct advantage.

The book is a very rich read. I come from a Physics background, and have read about Biology and Chemistry in passing. I have managed to read the book, albeit slowly but it is amazing since I have learnt so much. Such simple things as mudworms which sit on the border between the reducing muds of an estuary, and the air. They are the bridge enabling allowing them to harness the chemical potential of oxygen in a reducing environment to power their lives.

An earlier post I made extolled the wonders of Homeostasis of how an organism can keep itself alive by making sure nothing goes out of whack. This book takes that one step further and one can see that organisms that fit so well into their surroundings also change it to accommodate their needs, and so gradually over time the whole world.

In all honesty I have only read two thirds of the book, I have yet to get upto the section on termites, which is why I bought the book in the first place. After this I have The Tinkerer’s Accomplice, J Scott-Turner’s next book, to look forward to.

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~ by zeristor on April 14, 2010.

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