The Mystery of Metamorphosis by Frank Ryan
A Scientific Detective Story

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Metamorphosis has intrigued human observers for thousands of years. While everyone knows this trick of nature transforms caterpillars into butterflies, fewer are aware that this process of transformation also occurs in many other insect species, as well as in amphibians and-in its greatest diversity-in marine creatures. Still, despite its widespread occurrence, metamorphosis has largely remained a mystery-not just to the people who watch gorgeous orange Monarchs emerge from green caterpillars once ensconced in cocoons, but also to the scientists who have tried to unravel just how the transformation works. In Metamorphosis, Frank Ryan delves into the mystery headfirst, showcasing surprising new ideas that are shaking established science.

Ryan recounts how the intricate physiology of metamorphosis has slowly revealed its secrets. He brings the work of pioneering scientists-such as Jean-Henri Fabre, Vincent Wigglesworth, and Carroll Williams-to life as they explore the inner workings of the insect world. We also meet contemporary scientist Don Williamson, whose work on sea urchins and other ocean-going animals led him to a theory of larval development that challenge some of the longest-held beliefs in evolution-including those that date back to Darwin's time. Williamson, whose revelations have launched huge debates in science, has risked being labeled an iconoclast for encouraging people to think differently about how species evolve-a process, he says, that is not as linear as we've believed, and that involves not just mutation but also hybridizaton.

A character as enchanting as metamorphosis itself, Williams exemplifies the importance of questioning time-honored beliefs. Through his work and those of the other monumental scientists in this book, we come closer to understanding the ancient and miraculous transformation of juvenile life forms into beautiful and complex adult insects and animals.


About Frank Ryan

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Scientist and author Frank Ryan, a former physician, is the author of Virolution, Tuberculosis: The Greatest Story Never Told-The Search for the Cure and the New Global Threat(a New York TimesNonfiction Book of the Year), Virus X: Tracking the New Killer Plagues, and Darwin's Blind Spot: Evolution Beyond Natural Selection, among others. He's a leading voice on the role of viruses in evolution and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield, in the United Kingdom, where he focuses on developing his evolutionary concepts and helps translate evolutionary science into medicine practice. He lives in England, and lectures frequently across Europe and in the United States.
Published April 7, 2011 by Chelsea Green Publishing. 325 pages
Genres: Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math, Professional & Technical. Non-fiction

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Publishers Weekly

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Metamorphosis, or the dramatic physical change from one life stage to another (such as with insects and amphibians), is one of nature's most fascinating enigmas.

Mar 21 2011 | Read Full Review of The Mystery of Metamorphosis:...


Donald Williamson has been studying for decades the larval forms of various sea creatures, including sea stars, brittle stars, sea urchins, and sea squirts.

Aug 19 2011 | Read Full Review of The Mystery of Metamorphosis:...

Washington Independent Review of Books

The failure of Frank Ryan’s book The Mystery of Metamorphosis, which tackles a fascinating subject, is that its central thesis is framed around a hypothesis that has already been roundly rejected by the scientific community — not that a layperson would know it by reading the book, which falsely e...

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Williams proposed that metamorphosis was the “joining of genomes of completely different species in new.” In reading two of Frank Ryan’s books, Virolution and The Mystery of Metamorphosis, I’ve come to understand that scientific concepts and theories are constantly evolving.

Jul 07 2011 | Read Full Review of The Mystery of Metamorphosis:...


Even so, the informed reader will be left wondering about the inadequate genetic testing of one of the central themes in the book: Don Williamson’s controversial theory of larval transfer, which proposes that metamorphosis arose through hybridisation of distinctly different species.

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