The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life

W. W. Norton & Company
15
Free sample

“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?

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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
Jul 20, 2015
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Pages
352
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ISBN
9780393248197
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Science / Life Sciences / Biology
Science / Life Sciences / Evolution
Science / Life Sciences / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Steven Pinker
“If I could give each of you a graduation present, it would be this—the most inspiring book I've ever read."
—Bill Gates (May, 2017)

Selected by The New York Times Book Review as a Notable Book of the Year

The author of the forthcoming Enlightenment Now (February 2018) and The New York Times bestseller The Stuff of Thought offers a controversial history of violence.

Faced with the ceaseless stream of news about war, crime, and terrorism, one could easily think we live in the most violent age ever seen. Yet as New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker shows in this startling and engaging new work, just the opposite is true: violence has been diminishing for millenia and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species's existence. For most of history, war, slavery, infanticide, child abuse, assassinations, programs, gruesom punishments, deadly quarrels, and genocide were ordinary features of life. But today, Pinker shows (with the help of more than a hundred graphs and maps) all these forms of violence have dwindled and are widely condemned. How has this happened?

This groundbreaking book continues Pinker's exploration of the esesnce of human nature, mixing psychology and history to provide a remarkable picture of an increasingly nonviolent world. The key, he explains, is to understand our intrinsic motives--the inner demons that incline us toward violence and the better angels that steer us away--and how changing circumstances have allowed our better angels to prevail. Exploding fatalist myths about humankind's inherent violence and the curse of modernity, this ambitious and provocative book is sure to be hotly debated in living rooms and the Pentagon alike, and will challenge and change the way we think about our society.  
Nick Lane
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. 'An extraordinary account of groundbreaking modern science... The book abounds with interesting and important ideas.' Mark Ridley, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford
Elizabeth Kolbert
ONE OF THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW'S 10 BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR

A major book about the future of the world, blending intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a powerful account of the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes
Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In The Sixth Extinction, two-time winner of the National Magazine Award and New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert draws on the work of scores of researchers in half a dozen disciplines, accompanying many of them into the field: geologists who study deep ocean cores, botanists who follow the tree line as it climbs up the Andes, marine biologists who dive off the Great Barrier Reef. She introduces us to a dozen species, some already gone, others facing extinction, including the Panamian golden frog, staghorn coral, the great auk, and the Sumatran rhino. Through these stories, Kolbert provides a moving account of the disappearances occurring all around us and traces the evolution of extinction as concept, from its first articulation by Georges Cuvier in revolutionary Paris up through the present day. The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy; as Kolbert observes, it compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.

Nick Lane
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. 'An extraordinary account of groundbreaking modern science... The book abounds with interesting and important ideas.' Mark Ridley, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford
尼克.連恩(Nick Lane)
◆2016比爾蓋茲夏日選書

◆2015經濟學人年度選書

◆2010英國皇家學會科學圖書大獎、2015年英國生化學會獎得主最新作品

◆程延年博士古生物學專業審定

◆顏聖紘博士演化生物學專業審定

◆清大生科黃貞祥助理教授專文推薦

◆吳大猷銀籤獎名譯家梅苃芢最新譯作


繼《生命的躍升》、《能量、性、死亡》後,

生化學大師尼克.連恩(英國倫敦大學學院榮譽教授)又一力作

窮盡一生對生命如何發展而成的大哉問


在地球上出現的生命形式,到底是一個偶然,還是宇宙定律下的必然?


「假若,連恩教授所建構的思維體系是正確的話,

它將有如哥白尼革命一般的重要,甚或更為驚世!」

——程延年


什麼是生命?

什麼是「活著」?

複雜生命又是如何演化而來?


從幾萬英呎的高空到深不見底的深海海溝,我們的地球到處都充斥著生命。然而,生物學的核心卻是一個亙古難解的問題:複雜生命哪裡來?或者,換句話說,生命最初又是如何開始的。大師級生化學家尼克連恩則在本書中針對此問題提出解答。


第一個原始生命誕生之後,長達二十五億年的時光,這些單細胞生物基本上並無多大改變,仍維持原核型態。然而,在這生命演化的四十億年時光裡,僅僅一次,生命出現了跳躍性的成長,發展出前所未見的複雜性。在這之後所有的複雜多細胞生物,從香菇到人類,不僅出現令人費解、不同於原始細菌的生物特徵,如有性生殖、細胞凋零等,更甚,若是在顯微鏡下檢視這兩者的細胞,除了香菇有細胞壁之外,其他真核細胞的特徵皆一應俱全,無法輕易分辨兩者。為什麼只有真核細胞可以有這麼多樣的演化?以及,為什麼這樣激烈的演化是如何、又為何發生的呢?


尼克連恩認為答案在於「能量」:地球上所有生命的代謝與存活皆需要耗費相當高能的能量。連恩以進化論為基礎,結合了前沿研究當中能量轉換與細胞生物學的關係,從中討論生命的起源到多細胞生物的出現,並提供一個嚴謹的論證,同時加深我們對於「活著」與「死亡」在生物意義上的見解。


既嚴謹又豐富,本書對生命起源的問題提供了一個解答,這個解答也可以幫助我們思索,在地球上出現的生命形式,到底是一個偶然,還是宇宙定律下的必然?


【專業推薦】 (按姓氏筆畫序)


王弘毅╱臺灣大學臨床醫學研究所教授

李家維╱《科學人》雜誌總編輯

林大利╱特有生物研究保育中心助理研究員

林仲平╱國立台灣師範大學生命科學系教授

林勇欣╱國立交通大學生物資訊所副教授

邵廣昭╱國立台灣海洋大學講座教授、中研院生物多樣性研究中心兼任研究員

孫維新╱國立自然科學博物館館長

徐堉峰╱國立臺灣師範大學生命科學系教授

高文媛╱國立台灣大學生態學與演化生物學研究所教授兼所長

陳濟民╱國立臺灣博物館 館長

彭鏡毅╱中央研究院生物多樣性研究中心前研究員兼博物館主任


【各界好評】?


「尼克連恩藉由縝密的科學推論提供了生命的一覽圖。他的寫作清晰,如同簡潔有力的散文,然而其中卻滿盈著科學的深度,讀者將會被其生物學的驚人觀點給深深滿足。」

——《紐約時報》


「如果我是一個有錢的男人,我會買下所有的刷次,然後贈送給要念生物學的每一位大學新生。」

——Franklin Harold 《Microbe》雜誌總編輯


「他是一個原創的研究者與思想家,也是一名充滿熱情和理想的教育者。他的理論如此高明,範圍驚人,且深具挑戰性……若此理論正確,尼克連恩將如同哥白尼同等重要。」

——英國《衛報》


「一個生命形成的新理論。」

——英國《金融時報》


「比起其他的書,此書有著最令人信服的生命起源的過程推論……連恩從一個細胞獲得能量的角度出發,到為什麼有『有性生殖』和『老去』,以深入了解生命這個問題的各種層面。」

——《The Economist Intelligent Life》


「改變生物學觀點的書……應該要有更多人知道這個觀點。」

——比爾蓋茲


「近年來,對於生命的演化史最深且最有啟發性的作品。」

——《經濟學人》



出版社 貓頭鷹出版 (城邦)

Nick Lane
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. 'An extraordinary account of groundbreaking modern science... The book abounds with interesting and important ideas.' Mark Ridley, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford
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