Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the meaning of life

Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the meaning of life

by Nick Lane

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Mitochondria are tiny structures located inside our cells that carry out the essential task of producing energy for the cell. They are found in all complex living things, and in that sense, they are fundamental for driving complex life on the planet. But there is much more to them than that. Mitochondria have their own DNA, with their own small collection of genes, separate from those in the cell nucleus. It is thought that they were once bacteria living independent lives. Their enslavement within the larger cell was a turning point in the evolution of life, enabling the development of complex organisms and, closely related, the origin of two sexes. Unlike the DNA in the nucleus, mitochondrial DNA is passed down exclusively (or almost exclusively) via the female line. That's why it has been used by some researchers to trace human ancestry daughter-to-mother, to 'Mitochondrial Eve'. Mitochondria give us important information about our evolutionary history. And that's not all. Mitochondrial genes mutate much faster than those in the nucleus because of the free radicals produced in their energy-generating role. This high mutation rate lies behind our ageing and certain congenital diseases. The latest research suggests that mitochondria play a key role in degenerative diseases such as cancer, through their involvement in precipitating cell suicide. Mitochondria, then, are pivotal in power, sex, and suicide. In this fascinating and thought-provoking book, Nick Lane brings together the latest research findings in this exciting field to show how our growing understanding of mitochondria is shedding light on how complex life evolved, why sex arose (why don't we just bud?), and why we age and die. This understanding is of fundamental importance, both in understanding how we and all other complex life came to be, but also in order to be able to control our own illnesses, and delay our degeneration and death. Oxford Landmark Science books are 'must-read' classics of modern science writing which have crystallized big ideas, and shaped the way we think.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780192567857
Publisher: OUP Oxford
Publication date: 10/24/2018
Series: Oxford Landmark Science
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 551,574
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Nick Lane is a British biochemist and writer. He was awarded the first Provost's Venture Research Prize in the Department of Genetics, Evolution, and Environment at University College London, where he is now Professor of Evolutionary Biochemistry. Professor Lane's research deals with evolutionary biochemistry and bioenergetics, focusing on the origin of life and the evolution of complex cells. He was a founding member of the UCL Consortium for Mitochondrial Research, and is leading the UCL Research Frontiers Origins of Life programme. He was awarded the 2011 BMC Research Award for Genetics, Genomics, Bioinformatics and Evolution, and the 2015 Biochemical Society Award for his sustained and diverse contribution to the molecular life sciences and the public understanding of science. His books include Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World (OUP, 2002; 2016).

Table of Contents

Introduction: Mitochondria: Clandestine Rulers of the World
Part 1: Hopeful Monster: The Origin of the Eukaryotic Cell
1. The Deepest Evolutionary Chasm
2. Quest for a Progenitor
3. The Hydrogen Hypothesis
Part 2: The Vital Force: Proton Power and the Origin of Life
4. The Meaning of Respiration
5. Proton Power
6. The Origin of Life
Part 3: Insider Deal: The Foundations of Complexity
7. Why Bacteria are Simple
8. Why Mitochondria Make Complexity Possible
Part 4: Power Laws: Size and the Ramp of Ascending Complexity
9. The Power Laws of Biology
10. The Warm-Blooded Revolution
Part 5: Murder or Suicide: The Troubled Birth of the Individual
11. Conflict in the Body
12. Foundations of the Individual
Part 6: Battle of the Sexes: Human Pre-History and the Nature of Gender
13. The Asymmetry of Sex
14. What Human Prehistory Says About the Sexes
15. Why There Are Two Sexes
Part 7: Clock of Life: Why Mitochondria Kill us in the End
16. The Mitochondrial Theory of Ageing
17. Demise of the Self-Correcting Machine
18. A Cure for Old Age?
Further Reading

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Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
RLoughran More than 1 year ago
I'm a writer and when I'm writing fiction I read non-fiction because if I read fiction I'm comparing and contrasting and doubting and admiring and stealing and doing things that don't enhance the chances of my finishing my project. Usually I rip through a history or science book, but Nick Lane's book made me slow down and adopt a new way of thinking about the underpinnings, evolution, and future of Life. Yes, capital "L" Life. This is a watershed book. I have to buy another copy because of the bent over pages, underlining, and margin notes. A book that (at least for me) needed to be studied the first time through. Rob Loughran rjploughran55@gmail.com
Guest More than 1 year ago
While rather scientific, the author's description of the powerhouse of the cell, the mitochondria, is fascinating. The role of the mitochondria and evolution demonstrates the impact on mitochondrial disease and the future of mitochondrial medicine. Patients need support until the disease is better understood...until then, they have MitoAction.org
ianitts on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book provides clarity and inspirational ideas, and is not afraid to point the reader to alternate arguments. Epiphanos!
psiloiordinary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A truly profound book.For such a heavy weight topic, and one which he doesn't hesitate to cover in depth, Nick Lane pulls this off with seeming effortless grace. I picked up this book simply because I was learning about mitochondria at the time and fancied a bit more detail. I wasn't disappointed. If you find yourself complaining about things being dumbed down then this book is for you. For once the blurb on the book itself is not overstated and we do get an insight into "the most profound questions of 21st century science", and it is indeed "full of startling insights into the nature and evolution of life as we know it".We start with a fascinating discussion of the ongoing scientific debate about how life started and it developed to the level of the cell and then multicellular organisms. The mitochondria have a larger role to play in this story than I realised. I had been awed and fascinated by how the mitochondria generate energy and this book only added to my emotions (and knowledge). Next we are given the story of the struggle (?) between the genome of your cells and the DNA in the mitochondria. Finally we see how the powerhouses of the cell play a huge role in the development of sex - maybe.This book isn't easy and I mean that in a good way. If you can read Dawkins then you can read this.As well as a talent for writing and the ability to get difficult concepts across in an entertaining way the author deserves credit for picking out such a fascinating subject that has (to my knowledge) not been given the popular science coverage it deserves.Needless to say, I have added his other books to my reading list.A great read.
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