Dr Nick Lane is Honorary Reader at University College London and formerly strategic director at Adelphi Medi Cine, a medical multimedia company based in London. His first book, Oxygen: the Molecule that made the World, was published to critical acclaim by Oxford University Press in 2002. He is co-editor of the academic text Life in the Frozen State, and his articles have been published in numerous international scientific journals, including Scientific American, New Scientist, The Lancet and the British Medical Journal. Nick Lane has also spent many years clinging to rock faces in search of fossils and thrills, but his practical interest in palaeontology is rarely rewarded with more than a devil's toenail.
Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the meaning of lifeby 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.
'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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