The Tangled Taxonomic Tree #494

October 05, 2018

The idea of the tree of life appears in many of the world's religions, and it appears, famously, in science, with Darwin's famous tree of life, where species evolve over millions of years from a common ancestor in the trunk to new species in the branches. But while Darwin's tree of life endures in textbooks, t-shirts and tattoos, science has moved on. And the tree of life has become more of a tangle. We will speak with David Quammen about his new book "The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life", and with Julie Dunning Hotopp, who studies how DNA jumps from bacteria to bugs... and even to people.

This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.


  • David Quammen
  • Julie Dunning Hotopp

Guest Bios

David Quammen

David Quammen is an author and journalist whose books include "The Song of the Dodo", "The Reluctant Mr. Darwin", and "Spillover", a work on the science, history, and human impacts of emerging diseases (especially viral diseases), which was short-listed for eight national and international awards and won three. His shorter books "Ebola" and "The Chimp and the River" were drawn from "Spillover", each with a new introduction. His most recent book is "The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life", which explores the drastic revisions in understanding of life's history on Earth forced by recent discoveries from genome sequencing, and the story of a scientist named Carl Woese. In the past thirty years Quammen has also published a few hundred pieces of short nonfiction—feature articles, essays, columns—in magazines such as Harper's, National Geographic, Outside, Esquire, The Atlantic, Powder, and Rolling Stone. He writes occasional Op Eds for The New York Times and reviews for The New York Times Book Review.

Julie Dunning Hotopp

Julie Dunning Hotopp is a genome scientist and Associate Professor, Institution for Genome Science, in microbiology and immunology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

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