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 American author and journalist whose seventeen books include "The Song of the Dodo", "The Reluctant Mr. Darwin", and "The Tangled Tree". His most recent book, "Breathless", is a narrative of the scientific effort to trace the origins and evolution of the Covid-19 virus, SARS-CoV-2, and to combat the pandemic it caused. "Breathless" was a finalist for the National Book Award in Nonfiction. Quammen's 2012 book, "Spillover", had earlier explored the subject of novel pathogens (including viruses) that spill over from wild animals and infect humans; it predicted a global disease event, a pandemic, that would begin from a wild animal, possibly at a market in China, and possibly caused by a coronavirus. His forthcoming book (May 2023) is "The Heartbeat of the Wild: Dispatches from Landscapes of Wonder, Peril, and Hope", drawn from twenty years of assignments for National Geographic Magazine and knit together with new material. Quammen's magazine work has also appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Outside, Harper's, Rolling Stone, and The New York Review of Books, among other magazines, and his Op Eds in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other newspapers. He's a three-time recipient of the National Magazine Award and has received several awards for his books. He shares a home in Bozeman, Montana, with his wife, Betsy Gaines Quammen, author of the book "American Zion", plus three borzois, a cross-eyed cat, and a rescue python.

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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