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

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  2,723 ratings  ·  203 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 October 13th 2005)
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 ·  2,723 ratings  ·  203 reviews

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Riku Sayuj
Sep 21, 2011 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 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
May 27, 2010 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
May 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biology
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
Apr 16, 2010 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
Feb 26, 2012 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)
Aug 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
As the title states, this work is a comprehensive review of our current understanding, c. 2005, of mitochondria, the fundamental energy source embedded in most eukaryotic cells, cells with a nucleus, the essence of all plants and animals. Even having earned a B+ in high school chemistry, this work proved challenging, for the chemical and cellular interactions involved are quite complex. The author posits that bacteria-like cells entered eukaryotes, or their predecessors, billions of years ago an ...more
Peter Tillman
Feb 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: at-bg-pa, sci-tech
By page 12, I've learned that an adult human hosts around 10 million billion mitochondria, which are the size of bacteria (1 to 4 microns). Mitochondria make up about 10% of our body weight! I had no idea.

By page 17, Nick Lane has outlined his case that mitochondria are the secret "masters of power, sex and suicide." Which is a *great* title.

Life on Earth began perhaps 4 billion years ago, right after the Late Heavy Bombardment, or about as early as it could. It stalled at the single-cell bacter
Mar 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is extremely dense and equally fascinating. It explains in detail the structure of the cell, the mechanisms of energy generation, and the origins of complex life itself.

Even after the second listen, I find a ton that I missed the first time so I will spend some time with my paper copy... after I take a break.

Nick Lane argues that the moment when michrochondia entered its host cell was the origin of multicell organisms, and as such, ourselves. Mitochondria used to be bacteria, but it had be
Jun 19, 2007 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
Tanja Berg
Aug 04, 2012 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
Nov 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Reviewed for The Bibliophibian.

I read this while I was preparing for one of the final exams of my biology degree, so perhaps it’s no surprise that I found it helpful in revising some of the topics (mostly apoptosis!), but also found that knowledge useful in understanding the book itself. To me, it seemed an incredibly clear and well-written account of the role of mitochondria in life and the origin of life, and I didn’t really find any major holes in it based on what I know. If you’ve read The V
Cassandra Kay Silva
Feb 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
Flipping brilliant! Finally someone writes something decent and meaningful about Mitochondria. It's like five hundred unanswered small questions about how things work (or may have worked) on a basic level just clicked into place. Being that I also have a massive obsession with evolution and have always found this smaller scale to be a bit sticky this book really ticks all the boxes! Nick Lane really gets his audience. I read a lot of popular science, and I know a number of people who do likewise ...more
Jenny Brown
Dec 19, 2011 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
Feb 13, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: my-audio-books
"Power, Sex, Suicide" -- quite a lurid title, worthy of pulp fiction. Well, then there is the second line "Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life". It's a book written by a biologist about everything the modern science knows about mitochondria and its important role in life, death, and everything in between.

And alternative title could be "All the Roads Lead to Mitohondria".

It's not an easy-peasy popular biology book for laymen. Nick Lane is a scientist, not a journalist. He doesn't write to enter
Aug 28, 2011 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,
Jan 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Everything a general reader would like to know about the origins of (complex) life, and why we might owe it all to mitochondria.
Nick Lane managed to make sometimes-dense 321 pages a joy to read. The writing is smart, engaging and entertaining. This is, along The Selfish Gene, probably one of best science books I've ever read.
Jose Moa
Sep 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, biology
The pass from procariota to eucariota very difficult ocurring only once in our planet , another argument in favor of our loneliness in this wonderful and ill preserved planet
Emma Sea
Aug 27, 2017 marked it as non-fiction-to-read
i wish my library had this :(
Oct 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: genetics
"The link between life and death hinges on the subcellular location of a single molecule. Nothing in biology quite compares with this two-faced Janus: life, looking one way, death the other, the difference between the two but a few millionths of a milimetre."
Lane, Nick. Power, Sex, Suicide (Oxford Landmark Science) (p. 309).

Sometimes you just have no idea where to start from, because the book you've just closed is craving for second read, and as you start your review writing you feel you'd rath
Jul 07, 2009 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 08, 2012 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
Niveditha R
Feb 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Excellent book! However, it requires a background in biology or at least a vague understanding of cellular physiology. My expertise lies in a related field although I have been highly interested in evolutionary biology ever since I read The Selfish Gene. Every author of similar science books has a different take on various aspects of life on earth as we know it, and this is what makes reading them so compelling (albeit confusing!) The first 20% of the book was the best part where Lane describes ...more
Aug 01, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
The book centers around Mitochondria. Mitochondria are rod-shaped organelles that can be considered the power generators of the cell, converting oxygen and nutrients into adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the chemical energy "currency" of the cell that powers the cell's metabolic activities. Science is working on figuring out how to cure cancers and other diseases by tapping into the Mitochondria. Free radicals attack and distort mitochondria. Supplements do not stop free radicals according t ...more
Sheng Peng
Oct 13, 2015 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. ...more
This book was dense and difficult, but I feel like I learned a semester’s worth of material in 300 pages. Absolutely fascinating and illuminating. Very highly recommended!
Jul 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Great book! The book is wonderfully detailed and complicated (in a good way). Given the intricate subject matter, I found it wonderfully clear, like a good detective story. After all, any science is at it's heart, a detective story!

The epilogue is a great summary of the entire book and I might be returning to it to refresh myself in a year's time.

Notes for myself:

The energy pump

The mitochondria (and chloroplast) generate energy in a similar way to a hydroelectric dam by pumping electrons to gene
Mar 12, 2012 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
Abi Ghifari
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
Mitochondria are merely known as the powerhouse of the cell but here in this book, mitochondria are shown to actually be a lot more than meets the eye.

Nick Lane explores the wonders of mitochondria, the master puppeteer of power, sex, and suicide. Strongly hypothesized to arise from a symbiosis between oxygen-consuming bacteria and archaea, the mitochondrion has baffled scientists for a long time for its pivotal roles in eukaryotic cells. Not only to generate ATP, the energy currency of all life
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
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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
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