Power, Sex, Suicide : Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life Paperback
by 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
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 368 pages, 14 line drawings and halftones
- Publisher: Oxford University Press
- Publication Date: 26/10/2006
- Category: Popular science
- ISBN: 9780199205646
Showing 1 - 4 of 4 reviews.
Review by psiloiordinary
A truly profound book.For such a heavy weight topic, and one which he doesn't hesitate to cover in depth, Nick Lane pulls this off with seeming effortless grace. I picked up this book simply because I was learning about mitochondria at the time and fancied a bit more detail. I wasn't disappointed. If you find yourself complaining about things being dumbed down then this book is for you. For once the blurb on the book itself is not overstated and we do get an insight into "the most profound questions of 21st century science", and it is indeed "full of startling insights into the nature and evolution of life as we know it".We start with a fascinating discussion of the ongoing scientific debate about how life started and it developed to the level of the cell and then multicellular organisms. The mitochondria have a larger role to play in this story than I realised. I had been awed and fascinated by how the mitochondria generate energy and this book only added to my emotions (and knowledge). Next we are given the story of the struggle (?) between the genome of your cells and the DNA in the mitochondria. Finally we see how the powerhouses of the cell play a huge role in the development of sex - maybe.This book isn't easy and I mean that in a good way. If you can read Dawkins then you can read this.As well as a talent for writing and the ability to get difficult concepts across in an entertaining way the author deserves credit for picking out such a fascinating subject that has (to my knowledge) not been given the popular science coverage it deserves.Needless to say, I have added his other books to my reading list.A great read.
Review by MarkBeronte
If it weren't for mitochondria, scientists argue, we'd all still be single-celled bacteria. Indeed, these tiny structures inside our cells are important beyond imagining. Without mitochondria, we would have no cell suicide, no sculpting of embryonic shape, no sexes, no menopause, no aging.In this fascinating and thought-provoking book, Nick Lane brings together the latest research in this exciting field to show how our growing insight into mitochondria has shed light on how complex life evolved, why sex arose (why don't we just bud?), and why we age and die. These findings are of fundamental importance, both in understanding life on Earth, but also in controlling our own illnesses, and delaying our degeneration and death. Readers learn that two billion years ago, mitochondria were probably bacteria living independent lives and that their capture within larger cells was a turning point in the evolution of life, enabling the development of complex organisms. Lane describes how mitochondria have their own DNA and that its genes mutate much faster than those in the nucleus. This high mutation rate lies behind our aging and certain congenital diseases. The latest research suggests that mitochondria play a key role in degenerative diseases such as cancer. We also discover that mitochondrial DNA is passed down 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," giving us vital information about our evolutionary history.Written by Nick Lane, a rising star in popular science, Power, Sex, Suicide is the first book for general readers on the nature and function of these tiny, yet fascinating structures.
Review by ianitts
This book provides clarity and inspirational ideas, and is not afraid to point the reader to alternate arguments. Epiphanos!
Review by cazmaestro
I bought this book as, after attending a lecture by Dr Nick Lane, I found myself strangely interested in Mitochondria and how they're way more important than they're supposed to be. <br/><br/>The book goes into a lot of depth and can be overwhelming and frustrating at times, if you don't quite understand it. But what makes up for it is the number of times the key ideas are gone over, and how everything is nicely summarised at key stages, before and after an important idea is introduced. This keeps you on track if a particular example or explanation has gone straight past you. <br/><br/>The only downfall I think is that sometimes the book references parts of the book earlier that you have already forgotten about, but I'd blame that on my short term memory and lack of understanding as opposed to a poorly written book. <br/><br/>The content though is seriously interesting and the way mitochondria seems to affect every major part of our life is unbelievable at first but strangely falls into place after the main functions are introduced. <br/><br/><br/>