SKELETONS.  The frame of life

SKELETONS. The frame of life

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The Editorial Libros del Jata pleasantly surprises us once again with the publication of the Spanish version of another interesting geological outreach book. In this case it is skeletonsthe frame of life by Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams. This book masterfully mixes reflections, the history of life on Earth, Geology and “science fiction”, in a very didactic way.

The first illustration in the book is a photograph of a group of Cloudina carinata, Late Ediacaran (Precambrian) in Helechosa de los Montes (Badajoz), the oldest known fossil skeleton. This fossil is the witness of a key moment in the life of the Earth, when, more than 500 million years ago, living beings began to build skeletons. To this end, organic forms have used very different materials to make shells and bones, such as calcium carbonate, phosphates or silica. With these elements they began to create fundamental structures for most of the current forms of life, to which they provide rigidity and strength. Manifesting in a wide variety of forms, they provided the framework for sophisticated webs of life that shaped the evolution of the oceans, the Earth, and its atmosphere. Within a few tens of millions of years, all the major types of skeleton had appeared.

The skeletons allowed the evolution of an unprecedented variety of bodies, from the tiny shells of foraminifera to the shells of colossal dinosaurs or modern whales. Thus, the first bacterial colonies built large rigid structures, the stromatolites, while the Great Barrier Reef is a megaskeleton so large that it can be seen from space. There is a wide variety of skeletons, insects put their shell on the outside, as an exoskeleton, while vertebrates have endoskeletons. Plants use tubes of dead tissue for stiffness and fluid transport, which in the case of tall trees must be strong enough to span 100m. or more from the ground.

Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams, through the pages of skeletonsreveal to us the incredible variety of skeletal innovations that have allowed life to expand into a wide range of niches and lifestyles on the planet.

The work is organized into ten chapters, which can be read independently: The first (the appearance of the skeletons) deals with which are the oldest skeletons we know of and their rapid development in the Cambrian explosion of life. The second is dedicated to exoskeletons and the third to internal skeletons, while the fourth analyzes plant skeletons. The fifth chapter analyzes and describes the megaskeletons, such as the Great Barrier Reef, or the Cretaceous rudist reefs. The sixth chapter brings us closer to the world of microscopic skeletons, but above all it is a very entertaining introduction to the history of micropaleontology. The development of the skeletons of flying organisms is discussed in the seventh chapter. The eighth chapter is very interesting, dealing with skeletons as archives, that is, explaining what the study of fossil remains can teach us about the environmental conditions of our planet in the past. In chapter nine, the authors do a fun science fiction exercise, imagining what future skeletons might look like, including the possibility that we could incorporate more metal and plastic elements into ours. Finally, the tenth and final chapter deals with the skeletons that we, from Earth, have sent to other planets, such as Curiosity on Mars, but also about the possibility that there are stromatolites on Mars, or what the skeletons of the forms of life from other planets

The authors are Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams. Lead author Jan Zalasiewicz is currently a professor at the University of Leicester, having worked at the British Geological Survey. He is currently well known for being one of the promoters of the Anthropocene, but he has a solid background as a field geologist, dedicated to geological mapping. In his previous work: “La Tierra en un pejarro” published in its Spanish version by this same publisher, and of which we published a review in number 56 of Tierra y Tecnología, he taught us the deductions that a geologist must make when making a map and the results that a cartographic survey can extract from the rocks.

For his part, Mark Williams is also Professor of Palaeobiology at the University of Leicester, is a field geologist and paleontologist. He has worked in the British Geological Survey and has collaborated as a scientist in the British Antarctic Survey. He has carried out research in more than 50 countries, studying human impacts on the biosphere and has been concerned with understanding, as a paleontologist, the processes of climate change and the evolution of the oceans.

In summary, it is a very readable book, with a suitable scientific level, which will be of interest to both natural science enthusiasts and professional geologists. A book that addresses the history of life on our planet from a different perspective and that, for those of us who already enjoyed reading the previous book by the first author: Earth in a pebble, will make us look at biological evolution from a new angle. We appreciate the efforts of the Libros del Jata publishing house to disseminate and divulge geological knowledge and we hope that it will persevere along these lines.

Alejandro Robador Moreno

  • SKELETONS. The frame of life.
  • Authors: Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams
  • Translation: Lander Renteria
  • The attentive look. Editorial Jata Books
  • 2022, €27
  • original edition : Skeletons, the frame of life.
  • Oxford University Press, 2018

#SKELETONS #frame #life

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