‘One of my favourite science writers’ Bill Gates
For decades, biology has been dominated by information – the power of genes. Yet in terms of information there is no difference between a living cell and one that died a moment ago. What really animates cells and sets them apart from non-living matter? This question goes back to the flawed geniuses and heroic origins of modern biology. The answer could turn our picture of life on Earth upside down.
In Transformer, Nick Lane captures a scientific renaissance that is hiding in plain sight. At its core is a cycle of reactions that transforms inorganic molecules into the building blocks of life, and the reverse – the iconic Krebs cycle that sits at the heart of metabolism. This conflicted merry-go-round of energy and matter has long taunted true understanding. Nick Lane is in the vanguard of scientists now tracing its ramifications across the tree of life.
To grasp the Krebs cycle is to fathom the deep coherence of biology. It connects the first photosynthetic bacteria with our own peculiar cells. It links the emergence of consciousness with the inevitability of death. And it puts the subtle differences between individuals in the same grand story as the rise of the living world itself.
Life is at root a chemical phenomenon: this is its deep logic.
In this compulsively readable book, Lane takes us on a riveting journey, ranging from the flow of energy to new ways of understanding cancer. Lane provides a luminous understanding of how scientists, including Lane himself, are rethinking energy and living organisms. -- Siddhartha Mukherjee, author * The Emperor of All Maladies, The Gene: An Intimate History * 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 favourite science writers -- Bill Gates Hugely important ... a powerfully persuasive case for life being about energy flow, flux and change. In Transformer, chemistry is quite literally brought to life -- Jim Al-Khalili, author * The World According To Physics * Amazing! Takes science writing to a new level ... with soaring prose but uncompromising on scientific detail, Transformer made me think about life on earth in a completely different way. -- Daniel M. Davis, author * The Secret Body * Hugely ambitious and tremendously exciting ... Transformer shows how a molecular dance from the dawn of time still sculpts our lives today. I read with rapt attention. -- Olivia Judson, evolutionary biologist and author A thrilling and highly persuasive account of what makes life and how the miracle started, coaxed not by genes but a remarkable cycle of energy and matter - a chemical cycle able to conjure the material of life from the elements of a rocky blue planet. This hugely important book is set to become a landmark, transforming our understanding of how life works. Lane's infectious enthusiasm had me gripped on a tour down the aeons and deep into the inner workings of our cells, to discover the chemistry that gives me the sentience for such fundamental self-knowledge. Marvellous -- Gaia Vince, author, * Nomad Century, Adventures in the Anthropocene * Nobody explains the inner secrets of the living cell better than Nick Lane. He clarifies the complexities of the chemistry that drives all life in a most engaging way. The stories of how this hidden world was revealed by remarkable scientists is explored as a series of riveting detective stories, leaving the reader with admiration for the ingenuity and sheer persistence of those who unscrambled the reactions that underlie all life. -- Richard Fortey FRS FRSL, author * Fossils: The Key to the Past * An exhilarating account of the biophysics of life, stretching from the first stirrings of living matter to the psychology of consciousness. I felt as if I was there, every step of the way -- Mark Solms, author * The Hidden Spring: A Journey to the Source of Consciousness * Nick Lane never writes about the living world without offering entirely new perspectives on how life itself works. Transformer is no exception. His subject here - the Krebs cycle - is often seen as one of the driest staples of biochemical textbooks. But in Lane's hands, it becomes a key to life's origins and driving forces, to health, disease and ageing, and even to our awareness of the world. Biochemistry has never looked more exciting. -- Phillip Ball Praise for Nick Lane: 'He is an original researcher and thinker and a passionate and stylish populariser. His theories are ingenious, breathtaking in scope, and challenging in every sense ... intellectually what Lane is proposing, if correct, will be as important as the Copernican revolution and perhaps, in some ways, even more so -- Peter Forbes * Guardian * An amazing inquiry into the origins of life. I loved it -- Bill Gates One of the deepest, most illuminating books about the history of life to have been published in recent years * Economist * [Nick Lane] is ... one of the most imaginative thinkers about the evolution of life on Earth -- Clive Cookson * Financial Times * The origin of life may forever be a mystery, but not if Nick Lane can help it. His The Vital Question is one of the most astonishing science books I have read * Wall Street Journal * Nick Lane's marvellously engaging Transformer refocused my astronomer's gaze on the vital chemistry of life on our own planet. Both a scientific adventure story and an original quest to understand life on Earth, Transformer also guides us on how to find life beyond -- John Grunsfeld, former NASA Chief Scientist and Astronaut
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