Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution

Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution

Nick Lane

Language: English

Pages: 232

ISBN: 0393338665

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.
In this wonderful book, Lane (Power, Sex, Suicide), a biochemist at University College London, asks an intriguing and simple question: what were the great biological inventions that led to Earth as we know it. (He is quick to point out that by invention, he refers to nature's own creativity, not to intelligent design.)
Lane argues that there are 10 such inventions and explores the evolution of each. Not surprisingly, each of the 10—the origin of life, the creation of DNA, photosynthesis, the evolution of complex cells, sex, movement, sight, warm bloodedness, consciousness and death—is intricate, its origins swirling in significant controversy.
Drawing on cutting-edge science, Lane does a masterful job of explaining the science of each, distinguishing what is fairly conclusively known and what is currently reasonable conjecture.
At times he presents some shocking but compelling information.
For example, one of the light-sensitive pigments in human eyes probably arose first in algae, where it can still be found today helping to maximize photosynthesis.
While each of Lane's 10 subjects deserves a book of its own, they come together to form an elegant, fully satisfying whole.
20 illus. (June)





















with the perspective of another millennium, we can see that Mitchell’s discovery ranks among the most significant of the twentieth century.7 But even those few researchers who long upheld the importance of chemiosmosis struggle to explain why such a strange mechanism should be ubiquitous in life. Like the universal genetic code, the Krebs cycle and ATP, chemiosmosis is universal to all life, and appears to have been a property of the last universal common ancestor, LUCA. Martin and Russell

sex as a mode of reproduction. An inventive biologist may conceive of peculiar circumstances in which sex could prove beneficial, but most of us, on the face of it, would feel compelled to dismiss sex as an outlandish curiosity. It suffers a notorious twofold cost compared with virgin birth; it propagates selfish genetic parasites that can cripple whole genomes; it places a burden on finding a mate; it transmits the most horrible venereal diseases; and it systematically demolishes all the most

exactly the kind of pattern we would expect if clonal species arise rarely, thrive for a while, and then decay steadily to extinction over thousands of years. Despite the occasional ‘flowering’ of asexual species, sex is rarely completely displaced because at any one moment there are only a few asexual species around. In fact there are some good ‘accidental’ reasons why it is difficult for sexual organisms to switch over to cloning. In mammals, for example, a phenomenon known as imprinting

tectonic plates in this way. But the slow movement of fresh crust across the sea floor also exposes new rocks derived from the mantle, the layer beneath the crust. Such rocks give rise to a second type of hydrothermal vent, very different to the black smokers, and it is this type of vent that Russell himself champions. This second type of vent is not volcanic, and there’s no magma involved. Instead, it depends on the reaction of these freshly exposed rocks with seawater. Water doesn’t just

lose its electric charge altogether; and it is this that triggers the nerve to fire off its message light! to the brain. All in all, two rather similar rhodopsins are found in utterly contrasting cell types. Does all this mean that the photoreceptor cells evolved twice, once in the invertebrates, and again in vertebrates? That certainly sounds like a plausible answer and was exactly what most of the field believed until the mid-1990s, when suddenly everything changed. None of the facts is wrong;

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