Transformer: The Deep Chemistry of Life and Death
by Nick Lane 2022
About the Author
Nick Lane is a professor of evolutionary biology at University College London and an award-winning author of five books. He is the codirector of UCL’s Centre for Life’s Origins and Evolution (CLOE) and lives in London, England.
About the Book
“In this compulsively readable book, Lane takes us on a riveting journey, ranging from the flow of energy to new ways of understanding cancer.”
― Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of The Emperor of All Maladies
“I loved every page of Nick Lane’s new book.”
― Lee Smolin, author of Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution
“In this fascinating book, Nick Lane brings together biology, chemistry, and physics to illuminate the role of energy in bringing matter alive.”
― Sean Carroll, author of Something Deeply Hidden
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.
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