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97 of 98 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Penultimate Roots Trip - Eukaryotes, How We Got Here and How We Work
After the origin of life, the next big step on the way to us was the origin of eukaryotes. These are all the organisms - including people, trees, mushrooms, and slime molds - who package most of our DNA into chromosomes in cell nuclei. Mitochondria, the "powerhouses" of eukaryotes, are descended from bacteria which took to living in a very close relationship with...
Published on December 14, 2005 by Edward F. Strasser

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66 of 94 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Was I reading the same book as other reviewers?
I have been deeply interested in mitochondria for many, many years. I've read both medical articles as well as very excellent lay books (such as Lynn Margulis' Early Life, de Duve's Vital Dust). When I saw this book, I had to have it, especially in view of all the raving reviews.

I got out my highlighting pen and notebook, to make sure I extracted every...
Published on November 24, 2007 by Mehetabelle


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97 of 98 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Penultimate Roots Trip - Eukaryotes, How We Got Here and How We Work, December 14, 2005
After the origin of life, the next big step on the way to us was the origin of eukaryotes. These are all the organisms - including people, trees, mushrooms, and slime molds - who package most of our DNA into chromosomes in cell nuclei. Mitochondria, the "powerhouses" of eukaryotes, are descended from bacteria which took to living in a very close relationship with another type of one-celled organism; in fact they came to live inside the other. Nick Lane argues that this merger must have preceded the formation of the nuclear membrane. Hence "Penultimate Roots Trip".

Lane starts with a brief section on the origin of life, in order to present necessary information about how organisms get usable energy. This strongly supports his claim that something like a mitochondrion is necessary for life to become more complex than bacteria. After that he describes how formerly free-living bacteria could have evolved into the vastly stripped-down mitochondria. Then he builds up a picture of how that partnership led to the complexities of modern organisms. And I really do mean "builds". Each chapter draws on material from earlier chapters, and the picture becomes more complex as you go on. Fortunately, there are frequent recaps of the material you're about to need.

Marvelously, he manages to tell this story in mostly plain English. A little bit of technical language is unavoidable, but I am confident that it will not be a problem for anyone who wasn't already scared off by the word "mitochondrion" in the subtitle.

In addition to power, sex, and suicide, the book also discusses aging. Lane presents his ideas on why current attempts to slow aging don't seem to be working and gives some suggestions for research he finds more promising. This is the culmination of the book and I hope it provokes a lot of thought in readers at all levels of technical knowledge.

[Original review 14 Dec 2005; "powerhouse" comment added 25 Jan 2006.]
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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Potentially life changing, January 11, 2006
Few to no equations, not all that many figures, terminology introduced as needed, yet... this book is demanding. It has the capacity to put the reader through the proverbial wringer. It is slow going, not because it is per se difficult to read, but because it brings forth many questions and much thought. When I finish it, I will need to read it again.

It might be worth buying a copy for everyone in the local high school's biology course, in hopes that 2 or 3 people would read it, then be inspired and motivated to study hard toward real science.

How can one not be excited by the quest for a Last Universal Common Ancestor, whether there be one or more? How can one not be fascinated by a reprise on mitochondria, which in (even a very good) high school biology course 36 years ago were too glibly termed "the powerhouse of the cell" (but did we really know much more than this about them)? We now have specific and wonderous mechanisms of energetics, a possibility of discernable origins and history, and a convincing argument for a fundamental and perhaps unique point of departure from the all-microscopic and limited prokaryotic world, toward eukaryotes and rich and complex life.

Lane presents his opinions and speculation in addition to settled science, but these are clearly and responsibly identified. In several instances, opposing views are noted in sufficient detail to allow one to investigate another side of the argument. A Further Reading bibliography cites original journal papers.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The mighty mitochondria, May 10, 2007
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This review is from: Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life (Paperback)
Nick Lane tops his previous effort ("Oxygen") in gathering the myriad threads of biological science around a unifiying topic. By writing about all complex life forms from the point of view of their embedded mitochondria he answers open questions (and poses some novel ones) about the rise of complex organisms, the underpinnings of sexual reproduction and programmed cell death, and even our odds of encountering extraterrestial intelligence.

My only quibble is that each chapter seems to have been written for serialized publication -- there is too much summary of past chapters at the start of each.

A great read, for an audience spanning a wide range of previous biology studies.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books I've ever read, November 21, 2006
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John (Raleigh, New Caledonia) - See all my reviews
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As another reviewer stated, this really is a life-changing book. I read it after taking a course in biochemistry and it had even more impact on me in tying a lot of fascinating concepts together.

The most amazing thing about this book is how influential mitochondria are on our lives and subsequently how little we (you!) know about them. They're why we(eukaryotes AND warm-blooded animals)'re here, why we're large, why bacteria can't become like us, why we have gender, why we have sex and why we die. Fascinating stuff--definitely a book you should buy (especially considering the title is quite a conversation starter too).
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars at the crux of biology and evolution, February 2, 2006
This is the first accessible book that describes the crucial steps, on a cellular level, that allowed for advanced life forms. It also provides insights on sex and death. His book on Oxygen was remarkable, this more so. Worth a patient read, it is profound, with subject matter not addressed elsewhere.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Will bowl you over, August 14, 2006
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algo41 "algo41" (philadelphia, pa United States) - See all my reviews
Add two more topics to power, sex and suicide, and you have covered what the book is about, the topics being the origins of life and Lane's primary interest, aging. No, mitochondria were not involved in the origin of life, but just as they power cells by creating a charge differential across their membranes, earliest life is theorized to have begun when ocean and volcanic fluids mixed, creating bubbles (think cells) with a naturally occurring charge differential, and the metals which can catalyze organic reactions.

This work is more polished and unified than Lane's previous effort, "Oxygen", and will bowl you over, whether or not you have read "Oxygen".

Much as Lane loves the theories he is espousing, he loves even more the scientific reasoning which supports the theories: a good thing as the theories are in flux. While Lane is generally clear, and not technical, this can be a little misleading: the reader should have some background in evolution and concepts like the "selfish gene", and know something about how the cell works. Lane has as a small glossary, but I actually had more trouble with some terms which appear self-explanatory on the surface, but which are used differently by different scientists: metabolic efficiency, stress.

I don't buy Lane's conclusion that eukaryotes, or their equivalent, arose only once. Just because all current eukaryotes have one common ancestor is no proof at all to me that there were not unsuccessful lines. I am also struck by the amount of "simple" empirical research which needs to be accomplished; e.g, do we actually make do with fewer cells as we age and some cells die without being replaced?
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the very best biology books, September 12, 2009
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Roy Marsten (Atlanta, GA, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life (Paperback)
This is an earlier book (2005) by the author of "Life Ascending" (2009). I read it because I liked "Life Ascending" so much. This one expands on the role of mitochondria, and is full of amazing stuff I didn't know. I read a lot of biology, evolution, and genetics and this is definitely one of the very best. Lane keeps up with the very latest research, which I wouldn't be able to understand, and weaves it into a coherent story of our best current understanding of what life is and how it works. Highest recommendation. I have just started reading his even earlier book "Oxygen" (2002).
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It *is* a life-changing book!!!, May 14, 2007
This review is from: Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life (Paperback)
Well, all right... Enthusiasm might trump my common sense a little, here. Not everyone will change their outlook on life after reading this highly interesting and eye-opening book, but it certainly convinced me of the central role that mitochondria likely played in the evolution of eukaryotic cells and of multicellular organisms. I had to change my opinion on the relative importance of getting a nucleus or getting mitochondria during our evolutionary journey; mitochondria, which up to now I had unfairly considered as rather boring ATP factories and mere actors in the process of apoptosis, now do indeed seem to be the architects of life as we know it.

Nick Lane does a great job at integrating the relevant scientific literature and weaving it into an all-audience book filled with exciting facts and clever hypotheses. Among popular science writers, he is certainly among the best; the same appears to be true as a theory-builder.

This is a must-read book for all biologists, and a "really, really should be read" book for anyone else.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing, January 2, 2007
By 
John Blackwell (Northern Virginia, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life (Paperback)
The author pulls together a lot of information to create a view of biology quite new to me.

This is definitely a harder read than Richard Dawkins' books (such as The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution) which I also enjoyed. Lane is dealing with much more recent discoveries, and is careful to distinguish between what is firmly established consensus, and what is more speculative or controvertial.

I won't try to recapitulate his theses, I would just reveal my ignorance if I tried.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars amazing but esoteric, October 20, 2011
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This review is from: Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life (Paperback)
most reviews have been resoundingly positive and i won't deviate from that here. I will say this, I have a degree in chemistry and took biochem in college and found some of the chapters in the first parts of this book fairly advanced. i had to read sections a few times to follow properly. having said that, i think more science books should be written like this. this is at the the opposite end of the spectrum from "a short history of nearly everything" or other general science books. if you're interested in seriously learning about mitochondria, biochemical principles and the origin of life from a chemical standpoint i think nick lane does a great job and I'm very grateful he wrote this.
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Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life
Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life by Nick Lane (Paperback - December 11, 2006)
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