Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution

W. W. Norton & Company
11
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“Original and awe-inspiring . . . an exhilarating tour of some of the most profound and important ideas in biology.”—New Scientist Where does DNA come from? What is consciousness? How did the eye evolve? Drawing on a treasure trove of new scientific knowledge, Nick Lane expertly reconstructs evolution’s history by describing its ten greatest inventions—from sex and warmth to death—resulting in a stunning account of nature’s ingenuity.
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About the author

Nick Lane is a biochemist in the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London, and leads the UCL Origins of Life Program. He was awarded the 2015 Biochemical Society Award for his outstanding contribution to the molecular life sciences. He is the author of Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution, which won the 2010 Royal Society Prize for Science Books, as well as Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life and Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World.

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Additional Information

Publisher
W. W. Norton & Company
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Published on
Jun 14, 2010
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Pages
352
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ISBN
9780393071467
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Language
English
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Genres
Science / Life Sciences / Evolution
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This content is DRM protected.
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“One of the deepest, most illuminating books about the history of life to have been published in recent years.” —The Economist

The Earth teems with life: in its oceans, forests, skies and cities. Yet there’s a black hole at the heart of biology. We do not know why complex life is the way it is, or, for that matter, how life first began. In The Vital Question, award-winning author and biochemist Nick Lane radically reframes evolutionary history, putting forward a solution to conundrums that have puzzled generations of scientists.

For two and a half billion years, from the very origins of life, single-celled organisms such as bacteria evolved without changing their basic form. Then, on just one occasion in four billion years, they made the jump to complexity. All complex life, from mushrooms to man, shares puzzling features, such as sex, which are unknown in bacteria. How and why did this radical transformation happen?

The answer, Lane argues, lies in energy: all life on Earth lives off a voltage with the strength of a lightning bolt. Building on the pillars of evolutionary theory, Lane’s hypothesis draws on cutting-edge research into the link between energy and cell biology, in order to deliver a compelling account of evolution from the very origins of life to the emergence of multicellular organisms, while offering deep insights into our own lives and deaths.

Both rigorous and enchanting, The Vital Question provides a solution to life’s vital question: why are we as we are, and indeed, why are we here at all?

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.
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