Excellent open access articles on the evolution of life on Earth – UPDATE 2

October 6, 2015 • 6:05 am

by Matthew Cobb

Current Biology is a fortnightly scientific journal published by Elsevier, one of the main publishing companies that people have got very cross about because of their financial model, and the fact that its most recent research articles are kept behind an expensive paywall. However, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the magazine, Current Biology have published a series of reviews and ‘Primer’ articles about the history of life on Earth, and they are all Open Access, so everyone, anywhere in the world can read them.

This excellent initiative will provide many WEIT readers with the opportunity to update their knowledge, or to gain new understanding. The articles are written for an academic audience, but you can skip over the bits you don’t understand, or simply look at the figures showing, for example, the evolution of animals:

Figure 4 from Briggs (2015) The Cambrian explosion — ranges and relationships. Fossil evidence for the diversification of major animal groups based on first appearances of taxa during the Cambrian explosion, overlain by a metazoan phylogeny with branch lengths calibrated using a molecular clock approach (after Erwin et al. 2011).

Here are the contents of the special issue – the links should take you straight to the abstract, and you can then choose to read the full text on line, or download a PDF of the article. If you know these fields, you’ll see that these articles have been written by some of the top people in the area.

I haven’t read them all yet (they were only published last night!), but those I have looked at seem excellent. They cover everything from the RNA world, through the origin of eukaryotes (organisms with a cell nucleus and mitochondria), the Cambrian explosion, the origin of terrestrial flora, right up to the evolutionary history of birds.

History of life on Earth – Geoffrey North
The tree view of life – Florian Maderspacher
How life shaped Earth – Michael Gross
Archaea – Laura Eme, W. Ford Doolittle
Photosynthesis and early Earth – Patrick M. Shih
The Neoproterozoic – Nicholas J. Butterfield
The Cambrian explosion – Derek E.G. Briggs
Insect evolution – Michael S. Engel
Lobopodians – Javier Ortega-Hernández
Phylogenomic Insights into Animal Evolution – Maximilian J. Telford, Graham E. Budd, Hervé Philippe
The Origin and Diversification of Birds – Stephen L. Brusatte, Jingmai K. O’Connor, Erich D. Jarvis
The Evolutionary Origin of a Terrestrial Flora – Charles Francis Delwiche, Endymion Dante Cooper
Morphological Phylogenetics in the Genomic Age – Michael S.Y. Lee, Alessandro Palci
The RNA World as a Model System to Study the Origin of Life – Abe Pressman, Celia Blanco, Irene A. Chen

UPDATE: I’ve just learned that Elsevier’s Open Access generosity has limits – two weeks, in fact. These articles will all disappear behind a paywall in two weeks. Poor show, Elsevier! So, folks – download those PDFs ASAP! Don’t delay!

UPDATE UPDATE: The two week figure is incorrect. The articles will be open access for *four weeks* before disappearing behind the paywall. They will then be available again in a year’s time. Apologies for the confusion.

29 thoughts on “Excellent open access articles on the evolution of life on Earth – UPDATE 2

  1. These are awesome, thanks for sharing! I’m going to start reading these right after a seminar I must attend.

  2. Thank you very much for this up-to-date reviews! May I add an article I didn’t assimilate yet, which complete the evolutionary picture by integrating the viruses. The authors, A. Nasir and G. Caetano-Anollés, are using sequence data from protein 3D structure classification, namely fold families and superfamilies. The authors conclude that viruses “merit inclusion in the tree of life” and originate from ancien cellular organisms by reductive evolution. It is the first time I see an evolutionary tree including viruses! Free download at:

  3. Thanks Matthew, these look really interesting. I’ve already read two of the papers during my lunch break. The fossils in the paper about the Cambrian explosion are beautiful. Can’t wait to read the rest!

  4. Oh nice stuff, thanks Matthew! I’ve some longer commutes coming up and this will make good reads.

    Elsevier is trying to score some karma points with it’s audience, I guess.

  5. Also, don’t forget to download the PowerPoint slides. These contain higher resolution photos than the ones within the PDF files.

  6. Thanks so much for posting the links to pdf files from Current Biology on the History of Life on Earth. The articles on the Neoproterozoic and Cambrian help immensely with lectures I am giving this week in my class in historical geology at Northwestern.

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