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Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the meaning of life [Paperback]

Nick Lane
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
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Book Description

26 Oct 2006
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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Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the meaning of life + Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters + The Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease and Inheritance
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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; New Ed edition (26 Oct 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199205647
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199205646
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.9 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 11,679 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Nick Lane is a biochemist and writer. He is Reader in Evolutionary Biochemistry in the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London. His research focuses on the role of bioenergetics in the origin of life and the evolution of cells. Nick was awarded the first UCL Provost's Venture Research Prize in 2009 and will receive the 2015 Biochemical Society Award. He has published three critically acclaimed books, which have been translated into 20 languages. The latest, Life Ascending, won the 2010 Royal Society Prize for Science Books. His books have been shortlisted for two other literary prizes and named a book of the year by the Economist, the Independent, the Times, the Sunday Times and New Scientist. He was described by Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek as "a writer who is not afraid to think big - and think hard." For more information, visit www.nick-lane.net

Product Description


Challenging, but rewarding. (Vanessa Thorpe, Observer)

Its the most interesting and significant addendum to Darwin's theory I think I've come across since Richard Dawkins explained how genes are the mechanism for evolution. (Independent on Sunday,)

An enthralling account...The author has accomplished something quite breathtaking... Moreover, he brings the science alive...he is always accessible lively , thought provoking and informative. Every Biologist should read this book

About the Author

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.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Mitochondria are tiny organelles inside cells that generate almost all our energy in the form of ATP. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Where we all come from 3 Oct 2009
This book is a real treasure for anyone who wants to understand what life on Earth is all about and why we are the way we are. After you have read "The Selfish Gene", this (admittedly far more specific and complicated) work is the mandatory follow-up.

But talk about a misleading title! (Dare I say "cheap sales trick"?) Of course, strictly speaking, this book is about power - meaning "power" in the sense of "energy", not in the sense of "power over something or somebody". It is about sex - but only in the sense of "how did two-gender organisms emerge", not in any sexy meaning. And it's about suicide - it describes how occasionally cells die willingly if it benefits the organism as a whole. So if Mr. Lane would say under oath that this book is about power, sex and suicide, he could not be convicted of perjury. On the other hand, I don't think there are many people in the world who, seeing the title "Power, Sex, Suicide", would expect to find a book on... mitochondria!

And this book is about mitochondria. They are organelles inside the cells and they supply cells with energy. It doesn't sound like a big deal, but according to this book, mitochondria are the crucial piece of the puzzle that has made life as we know possible. When you read this book, you'll learn that amoeba (one-cell organisms who have mitochondria) are actually closer to humans than to bacteria (one-cell organisms without mitochondria). You'll also learn why bacteria can never evolve into multicellular organisms, and even why Richard Dawkins's "selfish gene" theory isn't applicable on bacteria. Also, the emergence of multiple sexes (there are species that have more than two) and the phenomenon known as cell suicide have been caused by mitochondria. The part on antioxydants was also rather interesting.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I read the hardcover version three years ago and I'm ready to start it again. There is a lot to get hold of, so I would not recommend anyone to tackle this book unless they are prepared to work at it, or unless this is their specialism. A strong motivation is probably more important than a grounding in biology - I had zero formal education in life sciences, but exposure to certain theories of disease revolving around mitochondrial processes and A-B symbiosis gave me the incentive to find out more. "Power, Sex, Suicide" came along at the right time. And by the way I think the title is spot on.
Fortunately for readers like me, Nick Lane has the gift of tracing the development of scientific understanding (and misunderstanding) as engagingly as your favourite writer of crime-thrillers. Yet you never feel there's the slightest tendency to dumb down. Once you get into it, the story is really gripping and by the end believe me you will be an expert - I was able to explain things to a doctorate in biochemistry! Of course, five years is a long time in science and the frontiers have undoubtedly moved on. So Nick, if you're reading this, I would love to get hold of the revised edition - 2010 maybe?
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ohh mitochondria, tell us the truth 17 Sep 2007
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
What a book, absolutely fascinating and highly recommended, although I must say that this is not an easy book, in fact is kind of complex if you are not acquainted with the subject. This is not a critic, thing is I would not change a bit of it, but in my opinion, people should have a little knowledge of cellular metabolism and biochemistry before attempting this book.

After reading Dawkins book about the selfish gene, it was inevitable for me to wonder about life origins, why unicellular organisms have that tendency to complexity and to group itself, and how all this machinery works. This book provide a thorough and absorbing biography of Mitochondria and its symbiosis with eukaryotes, what is the function of each one, why there are two sexes and why we aged and finally become history. As you will see, our understanding of these matters is rather modest, the author insinuate possible solutions to some of the big questions, but in any case the subject is so interesting that you read this book excited all the way to the end.

How beautiful is life and how complex ... you can see that just watching a little fly and wonder how on earth this insect manage to fly, as if eukaryotes have a previous knowledge of Physics, as if they have all the basic solutions of nature in a template. I just know one thing: I want to know and read more about it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's true - mitochondria rule the world 2 May 2011
By anozama
I bought this book on trust, not intuitively understanding how mitochondria could be as dramatically important as was claimed on the cover. My trust was amply repaid - this is a biology update well worth experiencing.

Bacteria were the apex of life on earth for a billion years - and most of them still exist today in their initial form.
There was only ever a one-off, single breakthrough into complexity, which happened 2 billion years ago. The book is about that breakthrough, and deserves the acclaim it has earned.

When one bacteria engulfed another and established an endo-symbiosis ( which was at times parasitic), a crucial platform for complexity was created: the cell-within-a-cell, which became mitochondria.

All multicellular life comprises such complex cells, with mitochondria the engine room of power. As cellular colonies evolved, the relationship between cells and organism was determined by selective cell deaths, triggered by their mitochondria - we humans get through some 10 billion such damaged cell exterminations every day. Overly-replicating cells trigger similar fates - thus mitochondrial responses effectively keep organisms' bodies in cellular proportion - that is of course unless the system fails (which is essentially the mechanism of cancer).

Subtler distress signalling from ailing host cell to these `guest' cells at one time stimulated, not cell destruction, but (sexual) reproduction between the two cells, and rejuvenation.

Hence the title of the book.

Lane goes on to speculate where all this knowledge might one day lead us. Enhancing our mitochondria could very well slow the ageing process and its attendant degenerative diseases- a tantalising thought.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
This was a gift so I am unable to pass comment
Published 2 days ago by Mrs.A.Evans
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 6 days ago by Sophia
5.0 out of 5 stars Spectacular and awesome!
If I had to give 4 books to every person on the planet, I would provide: Lawrence Krauss "A Universe from Nothing", Richard Dawkins "The Ancestor's Tale", Adam... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Hud
2.0 out of 5 stars A catching title is not everything
I really wanted to like this book and I was intrigued by the subject - the origin of life. However, I am not a scientist and I was expecting something more along the lines of... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Daniela. G.
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant book
Not a subject I had thought would be that interesting but I was wrong. I found this book fascinating. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Peter
5.0 out of 5 stars An exciting and stimulating book for those with curiosity about basic...
May be not ideal for those with no biological background of any sort, but this is a well written and stimulating view of some basic biology and the mystery of where we came from. Read more
Published 16 months ago by John Peters
5.0 out of 5 stars Insight into evolution
One of the most interesting books I've ever read. A bit of a science background is helpful as a reader but the writing is still very accessible without. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Chris Newman
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, cover to cover!
Couldn't recommend this highly enough!

If anyone is thinking about Medical School, then this is an absolute must-read! Read more
Published 21 months ago by A. C. Breach
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book for learning about evolution and cell biology
Nick Lane is my lecturer and suggested this book to aid with the course. I bought it but thought it could just be an attempt to boost sales. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Joe Oddy
5.0 out of 5 stars Insight into Cell Biology.
A most intriguing journey into cell biology.
In parts hard going, but worth the effort.
Nick Lane has the ability to explain these sometimes difficult concepts in a way... Read more
Published on 25 Jan 2012 by Xenophon.
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