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

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

by Nick Lane
Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life

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

by Nick Lane


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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?

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393352979
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 06/21/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 98,170
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Nick Lane is professor of evolutionary biochemistry at University College London and an award-winning author of five books. He codirects UCL’s Centre for Life’s Origins and Evolution (CLOE) and lives in London. Bill Gates calls him “one of my favorite science writers.”

Table of Contents

Introduction: Why is life the way it is? 1

Part I The Problem

1 What is life? 19

2 What is living? 53

Part II The Origin of Life

3 Energy at life's origin 89

4 The emergence of cells 122

Part III Complexity

5 The origin of complex cells 157

6 Sex and the origins of death 192

Part IV Predictions

7 The power and the glory 237

Epilogue: From the deep 281

Glossary 291

Acknowledgements 300

Bibliography 306

List of illustrations 334

Index 338

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