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Dark Life


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The dark life of the title is made up of the masses of bacteria that live deep within the bowels of earth. Taylor (Cave Passages), a veteran caver and professor of communication and theater arts at Henderson State University in Arkansas, explains that these tiny organisms are so abundant that collectively they are thought to weigh more than all the aboveground biomass. Species as yet undiscovered by scientists are thought to abound and to be likely to shed insight into the origin of life. While of interest, none of this is particularly controversial. What is hotly debated is the size of the smallest of these life forms. Taylor argues in favor of the existence of nanobacteria, life so small that many scientists refuse to believe they are possible, contending instead that the patterns observed are due to chemical rather than biological processes. The debate is crucial because the fossils attributed to a rock from Mars are of this sortÄif nanobacteria don't exist, traces of life have not been found on the red planet. Mixing science and adventure writing, Taylor describes fact-finding and collecting expeditions into uncharted caves. While he does a commendable job of vivifying the beauty of these strange environments and the passions of the scientists who study them, he is much less evenhanded when discussing the scientific controversy swirling around the nanobacteria themselves. Agent, Esther Newberg. (Apr.)

YA-Taylor first heard of "dark life" from scientists searching for it in the pristine environment of a newly discovered cave system. Nanobacteria had been unknown until very recently, when advances in electron microscopy finally revealed them to astonished human eyes; now, many of the hidden places of the earth, previously thought to be "sterile," were seen to be teeming with strange and diverse creatures. Taylor crossed the line from journalist-observer to participant-advocate, joining the quest for these new "bugs" and the secrets they might reveal about the nature of life. The story is compelling not just for the fascinating nature of the discoveries made, but also for the insider's view it offers of science as a working community. One likable young scientist, Anne Taunton, stands out among the many colorful players in this drama and makes the story particularly accessible to teens, as Taylor follows her career from high school graduation and on through college. As an undergraduate NASA intern, Taunton found herself at the center of the "Mars life" controversy. She gained new friends and mentors, faced strong personal and professional challenges with grace, and joined Taylor in making a significant discovery. At heart, a celebration of life-human, as well as theoretical-this book will appeal strongly to teens.-Christine C. Menefee, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

Taylor, an experienced caver and author of Cave Passages (LJ 5/1/96), demonstrates a knowledge and respect for this environment as he presents the ten-year odyssey that introduced him to the biology of extreme environments: caves, deep drills into the earth, volcanoes, even the surface of Mars. Taylor focuses primarily on caves, but the parallels with possible life in extreme and extraterrestrial environments are interesting. Taylor maintains that the microbes found deep in the earth are a form of life, a "dark life" that possibly demonstrates the very origin of life, but he includes the opposite view and the option that there just isn't enough information yet for proof. His prose style is easy to read and episodic, like a series of articles. Taylor is not a biologist, but he makes the biology understandable. He includes both suggested readings and web sites for further information. Recommended for larger public libraries or specialized natural history collections.ÄJean E. Crampon, Science & Engineering Lib., Univ. of Southern California, Los Angeles

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