Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World

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Overview


In Oxygen, Nick Lane takes the reader on an enthralling journey as he unravels the unexpected ways in which oxygen spurred the evolution of life and death. He shows how oxygen underpins the origin of biological complexity, the birth of photosynthesis, the sudden evolution of animals, the need for two sexes, the accelerated aging of cloned animals like Dolly the sheep, and the surprisingly long lives of bats and birds. Drawing on this grand evolutionary canvas, Oxygen offers fresh perspectives on our own lives ...
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Oxygen: The molecule that made the world

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Overview


In Oxygen, Nick Lane takes the reader on an enthralling journey as he unravels the unexpected ways in which oxygen spurred the evolution of life and death. He shows how oxygen underpins the origin of biological complexity, the birth of photosynthesis, the sudden evolution of animals, the need for two sexes, the accelerated aging of cloned animals like Dolly the sheep, and the surprisingly long lives of bats and birds. Drawing on this grand evolutionary canvas, Oxygen offers fresh perspectives on our own lives and deaths, explaining modern killer diseases, why we age, and what we can do about it. Advancing revelatory new ideas, following chains of evidence, the book ranges through many disciplines, from environmental sciences to molecular medicine. The result is a captivating vision of contemporary science and a humane synthesis of our place in nature. This remarkable book will redefine the way we think about the world.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A thought-provoking popularization of evolution and oxygen biochemistry."--New England Journal of Medicine

"Nothing less than a total rethink of how life evolved between about 3.5 billion and 543 million years ago, and how that relates to the diseases we suffer from today.... This is scientific writing at its best."--Financial Times

"A worthy effort with a clearly argued message, full of informative and entertaining details."--American Scientist

"Provocative and complexly argued."--Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"One of the most thought-provoking books I have ever read."--John Emsley

Kirkus Reviews
British biochemist Lane (University College, London) examines questions of life and death as seen through the lens of oxygen. The multidisciplinary text begins with Earth’s primordial environment, in which the main source of atmospheric oxygen was the breakdown of water exposed to ultraviolet light. Much of this aboriginal oxygen either escaped into space or reacted with other elements to form mineral oxides. Early life evolved largely free of atmospheric oxygen, although LUCA, the Last Universal Common Ancestor of current life some 3.85 billion years ago, used oxygen to generate energy. The atmosphere began to gain large amounts of oxygen when certain cells learned to photosynthesize their food from carbon dioxide and water, with oxygen as a waste product. Shortly thereafter (in evolutionary terms) another type of cell developed the complementary strategy of respiration, which uses oxygen to extract energy from foods. But oxygen, as every chemist knows, is a dangerously reactive element. Living creatures make special efforts to avoid direct contact with it, using special enzymes, physical shielding, and other tricks to keep its concentration within their bodies at a safe level. Even sexual reproduction can be shown to be a partial defense against oxygen damage, especially in the restriction of mitochondria (which regulate the use of oxygen) to the cells donated by the mother. Damage to DNA caused by oxidative stress appears to explain aging and many of its diseases, hence the popularity in alternative health circles of antioxidants. But antioxidants alone fail to prevent aging. Lane suggests two different avenues of study: modulation of the immune system, which generates free radicals aspart of its defense against infectious diseases; and ways of improving the health of our cellular mitochondria, on which many age-related ailments seem to depend. Provocative and complexly argued.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780198607830
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 3/26/2004
  • Series: Popular Science Series
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 264,411
  • Product dimensions: 7.70 (w) x 5.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Nick Lane is an honorary research fellow at University College, London, and strategic director at Adelphi MediCine, a medical multimedia company based in London. His writings have appeared in numerous international journals, including Scientific American, The Lancet, and the British Medical Journal. He lives in London.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Elixir of Life - and Death
2. In the Beginning there was no Oxygen: The Origins and Importance of Oxygen
3. Silence of the Aeons: Three Billion Years of Microbial Evolution
4. Fuse to the Cambrian Explosion: Snowball Earth, Environmental Change and the First Animals
5. The Bolsover Dragonfly: Oxygen and the Rise of the Giants
6. Treachery in the Air: Oxygen Poisoning and X-Irradiation: A Mechanism in Common
7. Green Planet: Radiation and the Beginnings of Photosynthesis
8. Looking for LUCA: Last Ancestor in the Age Before Oxygen
9. Portrait of a Paradox: Vitamin C and the Many Faces of an Antioxidant
10. The Antioxidant Machine: A Hundred and One Ways of Living with Oxygen
11. Sex and the Art of Bodily Maintenance: Trade-offs in the Evolution of Ageing
12. Eat! Or You'll Live Forever: The Triangle of Food, Sex, and Longevity
13. Gender Bender! The Rate of Living and the Need for Sexes
14. Beyond Genes and Destiny: The Double Agent Theory of Ageing and Disease
15. Life, Death and Oxygen: Lessons From Evolution on the Future of Ageing

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 5, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent and thorough, it starts as a history of the element on

    Excellent and thorough, it starts as a history of the element on earth, then into our best understanding of its positive and negative effects in bodily functions. It does get a bit bogged down in evaluating the health effects of antioxidants. In part the problem is in the continuing uncertainties in the field, but some streamlining would have helped.

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