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James A. Shapiro, professor of microbiology with the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Chicago, provides an overview of how organisms adapt to change.

Since 1973, Shapiro has been helping to shape the field of microbiology. In fact, he was a member of the initial team to successfully isolate a single gene from an organism. With a long history in the study of bacterial genetics, Shapiro has helped to craft the concept of natural genetic engineering, a process of biological evolution. As a supporter of non-Darwinian evolution and outspoken critic of the modern synthesis, Shapiro has published many works in the field detailing his analyses of the various related subjects and topics.

Shapiro discusses his basic thoughts on the concept of evolution. He provides a historical analysis on the theory that random mutations and natural selection are the essential elements of evolutionary change, and states that not only is this an oversimplification—it is inaccurate. As Shapiro states, many active biological functions are taking place, and accidents are not necessary for evolution; essentially, organisms can create their own evolution when challenged. Shapiro details some of their early experimentation with bacteria in the study of antibiotics. He states that they found in their experimentation that mutations in bacteria were able to allow bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics.

The microbiology expert talks about symbiotic organisms such as the microbiome, which contributes to properties of the larger organism. He discusses what happens in cells and the cellular activity that creates change in organisms. Specifically he discusses mitochondria and DNA sequences and the relational aspects in terms of biology. He explains how disparate organisms in our bodies share the same genome, yet they have different characteristics. Epigenetic changes determine which regions of the genome are being expressed. Epigenetics, simply stated, is the study of heritable changes within gene expression that do not involve any specific changes to an underlying DNA sequence, and as such affects how cells can then read genes. As he underscores, organisms sense changes and adjust to them. And interestingly, as Shapiro states, bacteria and cells in general are keenly aware of what is happening in their environment.

James Shapiro’s latest book, Evolution: A View from the 21st Century, discusses his thoughts on new ways to understand the tenets of biological evolution.

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