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Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life

4.24  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,285 Ratings  ·  108 Reviews
If it weren't for mitochondria, scientists argue, we'd all still be single-celled bacteria. Indeed, these tiny structures inside our cells are important beyond imagining. Without mitochondria, we would have no cell suicide, no sculpting of embryonic shape, no sexes, no menopause, no aging.

In this fascinating and thought-provoking book, Nick Lane brings together the latest
Paperback, 354 pages
Published December 1st 2006 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 2005)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Riku Sayuj
Feb 12, 2014 Riku Sayuj rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Rohini Nair, Soumya Sayujya
Recommended to Riku by: Jim

The subtitle of the book says “Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life” and the author tries very hard to match up to that high claim. The book promises to show us why mitochondria are the clandestine rulers of our world - the masters of power, sex, and suicide. In the end It does not quiet explain the meaning of life in the traditional terms but does put forward a very strong argument that life as we know it today owes a lot to those little symbiotes that inhabit every single cell in us. Yes, mito
Lois Bujold
Oct 13, 2014 Lois Bujold rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Lois by: random internet review

Well, that was three days of dense, chewy fun that nonetheless did not quite break my teeth. If you have survived high school science, you can probably take this on and follow its arguments pretty well.

Molecular biology is probably one of the fastest-moving sciences of the early twenty-first century, and in writing a popular-style book about it, Lane is in the position of a man trying to shovel his driveway while it's still snowing. He makes a statement about Neanderthal genetics on page one, fo
Mar 12, 2012 David rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biology
This is a fabulous book, which I recommend to everybody with a strong interest in biology. Nick Lane is a working scientist, a biochemist, with a very impressive list of publications. His articles and books, written for the non-specialist, have won many awards.

The book focuses on the science, and is written almost like a detective story. Nick Lane continually asks "why" things happen the way they do. Sometimes he speculates on the answers, but he always clearly describes the logic he uses to ded
Apr 06, 2013 Tasha rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
In high school I learned that mitochondria were the powerhouses of the cell. They were once a seperate entity that somehow came to live inside another. They still have their own DNA and genes, divide on their own, and manage their own interests.While all of this is technically correct, the truth is much more subtle and amazing.

They are our powerhouses. They are also the defining reason we have two sexes and not one/zero (or 28,000), and they exterminate damaged and unruly cells (hence the title)
Apr 16, 2010 Smellsofbikes rated it it was amazing
This is an absolutely amazing book, one of the most informational things I've read in years. The down-side is that I found it difficult, intellectually, and I have a degree in the subject. I think if I didn't know microbiology, it would be overwhelming. But with that said, the book's focus is on the relationship between eukaryotic cells and their mitochondria. It covers two different scenarios in how archaeobacteria and bacteria may have merged to form eukaryotes (gradual symbiosis as a result o ...more
May 18, 2016 Max rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
Lane packs a lot of science into this excellent presentation of the origin and functioning of mitochondria. While the density may put off some readers, those with a strong interest in cell biology and evolution should enjoy it. Lane posits that symbiosis, not just natural section, is what enabled complex life to form. He points specifically to endosymbiosis, the theory that bacteria were transformed into mitochondria after being engulfed by archaea. Lane holds that unique circumstances make this ...more
Nov 28, 2007 Jafar rated it really liked it
This isn’t really an easy read unless you already have a good background in molecular biology. Nonetheless, it’s a very fascinating subject and the author tries painstakingly to make it easier for the reader to understand the subject. Ok, so here’s my simple summary:

Mitochondria: They used to be bacteria that lived independently. Then they formed a symbiotic relationship with another one-celled organism. The combination eventually evolved into eukaryotes (cells with nucleus). All complex life fo
Jenny Brown
Dec 21, 2011 Jenny Brown rated it it was amazing
An extremely informative book about the role of mitochondria in evolution. The author explains complex concepts in terms that make them very understandable. I came away learning a vast amount about the function of mitochondria and in the process quite a few of the scientific factoids that float around the diet research world about antioxidants, exercise, and uncoupling started to make sense.

This isn't a one idea book, like so many science bestsellers. You'll have to read it slowly and carefully
Jan 20, 2015 Betsy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Betsy by: GR Science & Inquiry Group
[11/17/2012; edited 12/11/12]
This was a fascinating book. As a severe non-scientist, I sometimes had a little trouble wading through the detailed explanation of how cells work. I sometimes got frustrated with the level of detail, wanting to get the bigger picture. And sometimes he explained the same thing in several different ways, with different metaphors, and different approaches. But it was worth it.

I don't know the author's background, but I felt he was like a particularly committed teacher,
Tanja Berg
Dec 01, 2014 Tanja Berg rated it really liked it
A perfectly interesting read, but absolutely not suitable as beach read. Left at about 2/3's when I started the Newsflesh trilogy instead. Two vacations later, I realize, that I'm never going to finish. The book in itself is absolutely readable and my failure to finish is not its fault.

I even remember something interesting from it: mitochondria has only been incorporated into cells once during life's existence on earth. Some cells don't have mitochondria, that's true, but that's because they've
Aug 12, 2009 Steve rated it it was amazing
I've always liked mitochondria ever since reading A Wind In The Door.

Power Sex Suicide is an incredibly dense but fascinating book that makes the fantasies of that fiction book seem tame. Nick Lane contends that mitochondria are responsible for all life more advanced that bacteria, for sex, for cell death, for aging and death. It is also the first time I've had to think about redox reactions since high school chemistry (fortunately, it wasn't as hard as it was back then). The scope of his claims
Mike Potter
Mar 10, 2012 Mike Potter rated it it was amazing
A book about endosymbiotic theory.

It was long suspected that eukaryotic cells were the result of a bacterial merger. However, the theory wasn't widely known until Lynn Marguilis's 1967 paper. The evidence that mitochondria come from bacterial ancestry includes:

-mitochondria posses their own genome

-antibiotics can affect translation in bacteria as well as mitochondria

-new mitochondria are formed via a process similar to binary fission.

-mitochondria have several enzymes and transport systems simi
José Luís  Fernandes
This book is a nice trip through many issues of Biology like the origin of life and the eukaryotic cells, the appearance of multicelular cells, the ways how energy is produced by the cells and the rise of sex, ageing and death in eukaryotic beings (just to say a few subjects), all from the perspective of small organelles called mitochondria.

It's a wonderful and well-written work that attempts to see all these issues from new perspectives and popularizes many theories like the hydrogen hypothes
Mar 07, 2011 Neumyke rated it it was amazing
I thought this book was approachable despite my complete ignorance on the subject. I found the analogies and diagrams helpful in visualizing the many processes of mitochondria and Mr. Lane presents information that kept me busy thinking for many nights. There were a few concepts that had gotten away from me however the bulk of information was crystal clear with plenty of history and process explained.
Eddie Dovigi
Dec 28, 2014 Eddie Dovigi rated it really liked it
Energy, sex, death and life, or as the author puts it, "Power, sex and suicide, mitochondria and the meaning of life". When put like that, the subject matter of this book sounds pretty ambitious and almost farcical, but as the author Nick Lane demonstrates throughout the book, mitochondria are indeed involved in all of these processes within almost all eukaryotes.

Often touted as the powerhouse of the cell in high school biology class, mitochondria are in actuality a very complex organelle with
Angus Mcfarlane
Apr 10, 2012 Angus Mcfarlane rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
This was heavy going, especially since I have always learnt bits mad pieces of biology in what I've read ratherntahnthrough formal education (even at school, I think). But it was well worth the effort. The most interesting part for me was the theories on how mitochondria came to be part of the cells they now inhabit, a story that starts with the inorganic origin of life and culminating in perhaps the only development of advanced, intelligent life in the universe (perhaps). From this the book the ...more
aPriL does feral sometimes
Mar 26, 2012 aPriL does feral sometimes rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, science
The reviews of Jafar and Tasha on this book are excellent, so I recommend reading them for very clear summaries about what the subject is. The book is written for a general reader who has some science education, but one must have a 12th grade reading level, not the usual 8th grade level most books aim for these days. The book literally fills in the blanks that are left out of science magazine articles on the cell. Along the way, as the processes of the cell are described, some bigger philosophic ...more
Eric Bingham
Apr 27, 2012 Eric Bingham rated it it was amazing
This book was fascinating! It was just one interesting concept after another. Some science writers write to entertain, and some write to inform. Nick Lane is definitely writing to inform, and you don't see his "personality" in much of his writing, but it was so interesting that I didn't feel like any extra spunk was needed. Lane writes in a very comprehensive way. He also frequently summarizes and restates, which might drive some people crazy, but I liked that he continually reminded me of the m ...more
Nov 22, 2012 Brian rated it really liked it
Recommended to Brian by: David (following)
(4.0) Interesting exploration of the origin of life, especially eukaryotes

At times Lane seems to get a little too mitochondria-specific (e.g. claiming that many early miscarriages are due to incompatibility between nuclear and mitochondrial genes, arguing that sperm cells have few mitochondria because the mitochondria will be killed upon fertilization and not able to reproduce--but ALL male mitochondria will fact the ONLY hope for a male's mitochondria to be passed on is through fertili
Steve Van Slyke
Mar 21, 2012 Steve Van Slyke rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Dedicated science readers
Recommended to Steve by: Science & Inquiry Group
Shelves: science, kindle, evolution
I am a non-scientist and I made it through it, but at times it was definitely a challenge (I should have applied myself much harder in Chemistry class). Furthermore, biology is not my first love within the field of science. Nevertheless, I found it to be a very worthwile and informative read. I like his style of writing. He poses a question and then answers it. The book is also well organized, rolling forward in a very logical sequence. One area of biology that I am particularly interested in is ...more
Mar 09, 2012 Miranda rated it really liked it
This book was recommended to me by several AP Biology teachers as a good background to help prepare students for the AP Biology test and college. It's NOT a test-prep book. Instead, it delves into the mitochondria and the evolution of the eukaryotic cell. This is a key concept in biology, and this book uses lots of current research to explain evolutionary probabilities. It is a dense read - lots of complex big science words, however not as bad as a textbook. Perhaps not the best-seller for the m ...more
Dec 30, 2013 Bruce rated it liked it
The first 2/3rds or so of this book were 4 star material - very interesting and reasonably well written. After that, as the focus turned to more and more speculative theories regarding aging and the like, the quality of the writing deteriorated, and I became more and more frustrated with the hand wavy theories advanced by the author. In this part of the book, the author succumbed to the failure of so many science (and other) writers: the inability to see beyond the subject at issue. There are a ...more
Sheng Peng
Oct 13, 2015 Sheng Peng rated it it was amazing
It's so amazing and covers so much about origin of life that it feels like a scientific bible. And it's such an entertaining book that it reads like a bestselling production by Gladwell yet is based on facts and not yanked out of the author's ass. Highly recommended.
Mickey Lee
May 07, 2016 Mickey Lee rated it it was amazing
A radical thinker and a brilliant lecturer (actually one of the reasons why I chose my university), Dr Nick Lane is probably my favourite author. Whilst I may be biased (for I am also very much interested in evolutionary biochemistry), he writes about some of the most enthralling topics in sciences. He is also never afraid to discuss complex biological problems, and describes his books as more "accessible science than popular science", allowing his readers to truly understand and appreciate the ...more
Mar 29, 2012 Denise rated it really liked it
Recommended to Denise by: book club
I finished college in the late nineties, this book provided a refresher and catch up. A decade ago (plus a few years), I remember reading How and Why We Age by Leonard Hayflick and his discussion on telomeres. This book is much like Hayflick's -easy to read, good information for a general audience, and an exciting look toward future discoveries. As of today, mitochondria still have some mysteries to divulge and the aging link remains hesitant.
Taymara Stephania  Jagmohan
Jun 14, 2012 Taymara Stephania Jagmohan rated it did not like it
-Despite being Science oriented, I disliked this book.
It taught me a lot, but it is just not what I wanted to learn.
There were verses on love, and why we make love, and why the mitochondria in every one allow people to cheat and ruin the truest wisdom of this world, but this book is ugly, and I didn't like it at all.
I couldn't finish it because that's that.

Yours truly and ever blossoming,
Aug 04, 2009 Nicholas rated it did not like it
Shelves: biology, books-i-quit
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 03, 2011 Ann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, science
Not recommended for the person who lacks knowledge in biological jargon. An interesting read, although the author becomes lost in opposing theories rather than focusing on facts. Tends to be drab in places, but informative nonetheless. Bottom line: Great for someone who has a high interests in sub-cellular organelles and their evolutionn -- comes recommended... Not so great for the lay person.
Loránd Szakács
I used to hate biology up until college. It was taught through rote memorization, with no sign that it went beyond simple cataloging. I'm glad that, in reality, it is not boring at all. There is such a marvelously complex bigger picture, partially unknown, ripe with the possibility of new discovery. And it's because of books like this that I have come to know this simple fact.
Mar 04, 2010 Pancha rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, science
Lane is a wonderful science writer. He is packs his books full of information, elucidating not only the subject at hand, but many interesting tangential subjects. And while he doesn't shy away from including some information that is a little "harder" than usually shows up in popular science books, he does so in a very comprehensible way, and with a good dose of humor.
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Dr Nick Lane is a British biochemist and writer. He was awarded the first Provost's Venture Research Prize in the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London, where he is now a Reader in Evolutionary Biochemistry. Dr Lane’s research deals with evolutionary biochemistry and bioenergetics, focusing on the origin of life and the evolution of complex cells. Dr Lane w ...more
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“To visualize this dance, the transparent components of the cell had to be coloured using a stain. As it happened, the stains that were best able to colour the chromosomes were acidic. Unfortunately, these stains tended to dissolve the mitochondria; their obsession with the nucleus meant that cytologists were simply dissolving the evidence. Other stains were ambivalent, colouring mitochondria only transiently, for the mitochondria themselves rendered the stain colourless. Their rather ghostly appearance and disappearance was scarcely conducive to firm belief. Finally Carl Benda demonstrated, in 1897, that mitochondria do have a corporeal existence in cells. He defined them as ‘granules, rods, or filaments in the cytoplasm of nearly all cells … which are destroyed by acids or fat solvents.’ His term, mitochondria (pronounced ‘my-toe-con-dree-uh’), was derived from the Greek mitos, meaning thread, and chondrin, meaning small grain. Although his name alone stood the test of time, it was then but one among many. Mitochondria have revelled in more than thirty magnificently obscure names, including chondriosomes, chromidia, chondriokonts, eclectosomes, histomeres, microsomes, plastosomes, polioplasma, and vibrioden.” 3 likes
“This was difficult to prove as most hydrogenosomes have lost their entire genome, but it is now established with some certainty.1 In other words, whatever bacteria entered into a symbiotic relationship in the first eukaryotic cell, its descendents numbered among them both mitochondria and hydrogenosomes.” 2 likes
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