John Whitfield

John Whitfield is the author of In the Beat of a Heart: Life, Energy and the Unity of Nature. He lives in London.

Tens of thousands of years ago, the arrival of people in the Americas, and in Australia and New Zealand, was followed by a wave of extinctions, particularly of the largest species, which made the most attractive game. More recently, rats, cats and goats have eaten their way through the native plants and animals of small and not so small islands; and California is home to four hundred...

Get the Mosquitoes! selfish genes

John Whitfield, 30 November 2006

Some flour beetles carry a gene called Medea. Their offspring look normal as larvae but, around the time of hatching, half the females become listless, then paralysed; and then they die. No one knows how it works, but the female offspring that inherit a copy of the gene are protected from the poison it uses, while those that don’t are killed by it.

Medea has evolved thanks to sexual...

70 Centimetres and Rising: plate tectonics

John Whitfield, 3 February 2005

Alfred Wegener, born in 1880, pioneered the use of balloons in meteorology, and in 1906 broke the endurance record by staying up in the air for 52 hours. He spent several years studying the weather on Greenland, crossing the island on foot. He died there in 1930, after getting lost in a blizzard while returning from a trip to relieve stranded colleagues. In 1910, he had mentioned in a letter...

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