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Human beings are extraordinary meddlers. We’ve been shaping the world around us since the last ice age, and the longer we’re around, the better we become at resetting the course of evolution. From domesticating animals to CRISPR, a revolutionary new gene-editing tool that garnered a Nobel Prize in 2020, humans haven’t stopped tinkering and probably never will.
There’s an understandable nervousness around human interference; what are we potentially destroying, or at least mucking up, when we tamper with nature? In her new book, Life as We Made It: How 50,000 Years of Human Innovation Refined — and Redefined — Nature, Biologist Beth Shapiro argues that meddling is the essence of what humans do to survive and thrive. Hunting, hybridizing plants, domesticating animals, and conserving the living things around us are all forms of intervention, none of which are new to us. With that in mind, Shapiro makes the case to free ourselves from fear of obtrusion and instead become better meddlers. In turn, we may find opportunities to maintain and improve biodiversity — and our own livelihoods.
Beth Shapiro is Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UC Santa Cruz. She has appeared on National Geographic, Discovery, and the BBC, and has written for the Financial Times and Observer. She is the author of the award-winning book, How to Clone a Mammoth.
Carl Zimmer is the science columnist for the New York Times and a frequent contributor to magazines including The Atlantic, National Geographic, and Scientific American. His award-winning books include Life’s Edge: The Search for What It Means to Be Alive and She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Power, Perversion, and Potentials of Heredity.
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