Reviewing THE VITAL QUESTION by Nick Lane, New York, W. W. Norton, 2015

The Vital Question Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life by Nick Lane In this book author Nick Lane, biochemist at University College, London, defines in exacting logic where life may have begun on Earth, why archaea and bacteria got stuck "... at the bacterial level of complexity for more than two billion years," and why the jump to complex eukaryotic life, to critters like us, was made possible by difficult, perhaps unique, endosymbiosis events—the engulfing of one microbe by another.

All this is of interest in our search for exolife. If we understood how life began on Earth, we would know better how to look for life elsewhere. The author goes into great detail describing the alkaline hydrothermal vents on Earth's ocean floor. They most likely provided the ideal environment for harnessing the proton exchange required to get simple life started here. We would do well to learn more about those vents before we study possible life-starting environments on Europa, Titan, and Enceladus.

He points out that RNA is far too complex a molecule to start with. He stresses the need to consider the energy requirements of cellular and genomic activity. He describes in detail the alkaline hydrothermal vents and how they could provide the gentle environment to get simple prokaryotic life (the archaea and bacteria) started.

As a result of endosymbiosis between simple organisms on a 2-billion-year-old Earth, cells that became complex eukaryotes plus endosymbionts: mitochondria or (later) chloroplasts (to make plants). Lane says, "...the singular origin of complex life might have depended on their acquisition..." because this endosymbiosis provided energy efficiency.

The author does a masterful job of introducing and exploring critical questions. Why did the bacteria never evolve into more complex critters? Perhaps they stayed stuck due to a "constrained structure" that limited their ability to capture energy.

The uniqueness of complex life in the universe was suggested in Ward and Brownlee's RARE EARTH. They give us many geologic and astronomic reasons why Earth lucked out in the effort to produce complex life. Now we have Lane's bioenergetic arguments to add to our luck.
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Published on June 06, 2017 16:29 Tags: alkaline-hydrothermal-vents, energy, evolution, exolife, life-begins, nick-lane, source-of-live
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Reviewing World-changing Nonfiction

Cary Neeper
Expanding on the ideas portrayed in The Archives of Varok books for securing the future.
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