Skip to main content

Frank Ryan – Four Way Interview

Frank Ryan is a consultant physician and an innovative evolutionary biologist. He has pioneered the concept of viruses as symbionts. His book on tuberculosis, renamed The Forgotten Plague, was a non-fiction book of the year for the New York Times, while his Darwin’s Blind Spot created interest in academic and lay circles, leading to Frank being elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London. Frank’s new book for 2011 is Metamorphosis/ The Mystery of Metamorphosis, in the UK and US respectively. Frank’s books have been the subject of many TV and radio documentaries. He is also an occasional reviewer of books for the New York Times.
Why science?
I’m a physician with an interest in evolutionary biology, so science has been my life for forty years. It attracted me in the first place because it tries to answer some of the great mysteries of life and the universe through logic and experiment.
Why this book?
I’ve always been fascinated by the dramatic changes of metamorphosis. One of the most fascinating is the highly topical evolutionary thread that links the tadpole larva of the sea squirt, which probably evolved more than 500 million years ago, to the present-day development of the human forebrain in the foetus. Metamorphosis bridges these extraordinary evolutionary distances. Twelve years ago Lynn Margulis, the famous US scientist, asked me to take an interest in the work of Don Williamson. I see his work as involving the most extreme hybridisation theory, and even more importantly, extreme hybridisation experiments ever in evolutionary biology. In two of his experiments he produced what may be the first ever artificial life form produced in the lab. The experiment is described in more detail on my website.
What’s next?
My personal field is the role of viruses in the origins of life and its subsequent diversity. So this interest, which I term “viral symbiosis” (which was described in my book, Virolution), will continue to preoccupy me.
What’s exciting you at the moment?
The first ever symbiotic role for a HERV-K (human endogenous retrovirus) has just been reported. HERV-Ks are specific to mammals and include the only HERVs exclusive to humans. It appears to be expressing its genes deep within the human placenta – the involvement of HERV-Ks in our human evolution is very exciting.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Einstein's Greatest Mistake - David Bodanis ****

Books on Einstein and his work are not exactly thin on the ground. There's even been more than one book before with a title centring on Einstein's mistake or mistakes. So to make a new title worthwhile it has do something different - and David Bodanis certainly achieves this with Einstein's Greatest Mistake. If I'm honest, the book isn't the greatest on the science or the history - but what it does superbly is tell a story. The question we have to answer is why that justifies considering this to be a good book.
I would compare Einstein's Greatest Mistake with the movie Lincoln -  it is, in effect, a biopic in book form with all the glory and flaws that can bring. Compared with a good biography, a biopic will distort the truth and emphasise parts of the story that aren't significant because they make for a good screen scene. But I would much rather someone watched the movie than never found out anything about Lincoln - and similarly I'd much rather someon…

A Tale of Seven Scientists - Eric Scerri ***

Scientists sometimes tell us we're in a post-philosophy world. For example, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow in The Grand Design bluntly say that that philosophy is 'dead' - no longer required, as science can do its job far better. However, other scientists recognise the benefits of philosophy, particularly when it is applied to their own discipline. One such is Eric Scerri, probably the world's greatest expert on the periodic table, who in this challenging book sets out to modify the philosophical models of scientific progress.

I ought to say straight away that A Tale of Seven Scientists sits somewhere on the cusp between popular science and a heavy duty academic title. For reasons that will become clear, I could only give it three stars if rating it as popular science, but it deserves more if we don't worry too much about it being widely accessible.

One minor problem with accessibility is that I've never read a book that took so long to get started. First t…

Four Way Interview - Tom Cabot

Tom Cabot is a London-based book editor and designer with a background in experimental psychology, natural science and graphic design. He founded the London-based packaging company, Ketchup, and has produced and illustrated many books for the British Film Institute, Penguin and the Royal Institute of British Architects. Tom has held a lifelong passion to explain science graphically and inclusively ... ever since being blown away by Ray and Charles Eames’ Powers of Ten at an early age. His first book is Eureka, an infographic guide to science.

Why infographics?
For me infographics provided a way to present heavy-lifting science in an alluring and playful, but ultimately illuminating, way. And I love visualising data and making it as attractive as the ideas are.  The novelty of the presentation hopefully gets the reader to look afresh. I love the idea of luring in readers who might normally be put off by drier, more monotone science – people who left science behind at 16. I wanted the boo…