Transformer: The Deep Chemistry of Life and Death

Transformer: The Deep Chemistry of Life and Death

by Nick Lane
Transformer: The Deep Chemistry of Life and Death

Transformer: The Deep Chemistry of Life and Death

by Nick Lane


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From the renowned biochemist and author of The Vital Question, an illuminating inquiry into the Krebs cycle and the origins of life.

“Nick Lane’s exploration of the building blocks that underlie life’s big fundamental questions—the origin of life itself, aging, and disease—have shaped my thinking since I first came across his work. He is one of my favorite science writers.”—Bill Gates

What brings the Earth to life, and our own lives to an end?

For decades, biology has been dominated by the study of genetic information. Information is important, but it is only part of what makes us alive. Our inheritance also includes our living metabolic network, a flame passed from generation to generation, right back to the origin of life. In Transformer, biochemist Nick Lane reveals a scientific renaissance that is hiding in plain sight —how the same simple chemistry gives rise to life and causes our demise.

Lane is among the vanguard of researchers asking why the Krebs cycle, the “perfect circle” at the heart of metabolism, remains so elusive more than eighty years after its discovery. Transformer is Lane’s voyage, as a biochemist, to find the inner meaning of the Krebs cycle—and its reverse—why it is still spinning at the heart of life and death today.

Lane reveals the beautiful, violent world within our cells, where hydrogen atoms are stripped from the carbon skeletons of food and fed to the ravenous beast of oxygen. Yet this same cycle, spinning in reverse, also created the chemical building blocks that enabled the emergence of life on our planet. Now it does both. How can the same pathway create and destroy? What might our study of the Krebs cycle teach us about the mysteries of aging and the hardest problem of all, consciousness?

Transformer unites the story of our planet with the story of our cells—what makes us the way we are, and how it connects us to the origin of life. Enlivened by Lane’s talent for distilling and humanizing complex research, Transformer offers an essential read for anyone fascinated by biology’s great mysteries. Life is at root a chemical phenomenon: this is its deep logic.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393651485
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 07/12/2022
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 1,168,784
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.30(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: Life itself 1

1 Discovering the nanocosm 27

2 The path of carbon 74

3 From gases to life 112

4 Revolutions 155

5 To the dark side 191

6 The flux capacitor 233

Epilogue: Self 274

Envoi: 'Like Most Revelations' 285

The forward Krebs cycle 286

The reverse Krebs cycle 287

Appendix 1 Red protein mechanics 288

Appendix 2 The Krebs line 294

List of abbreviations 302

Further reading 305

Acknowledgements 368

Index 375

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