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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
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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.”
Nick Lane, Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the meaning of life
“Radical feminists and evolutionists agree that males are a serious cost to society.”
Nick Lane, Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life
“Without programmed cell death, the bonds that bind cells in complex multicellular organisms might never have evolved.”
Nick Lane, Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the meaning of life
“It seems that all eukaryotic cells either have, or once had (and then lost) mitochondria. In other words, possession of mitochondria is a sine qua non of the eukaryotic condition”
Nick Lane, Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life
“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.”
Nick Lane, Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the meaning of life
“Rather surprisingly, to anyone who is most familiar with textbook mitochondria, many simple single-celled eukaryotes have mitochondria that operate in the absence of oxygen. Instead of using oxygen to burn up food, these ‘anaerobic’ mitochondria use other simple compounds like nitrate or nitrite. In most other respects, they operate in a very similar fashion to our own mitochondria, and are unquestionably related. So the spectrum stretches from aerobic mitochondria like our own, which are dependent on oxygen, through ‘anaerobic’ mitochondria, which prefer to use other molecules like nitrates, to the hydrogenosomes, which work rather differently but are still related.”
Nick Lane, Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the meaning of life
“The point I want to make about methanogens is that they were the losers in the race through a bottleneck, yet nonetheless survived in niche environments. Similarly, on a larger scale, it is rare for the loser to disappear completely, or for the latecomers never to gain at least a precarious foothold. The fact that flight had already evolved among birds did not preclude its later evolution in bats, which became the most numerous mammalian species. The evolution of plants did not lead to the disappearance of algae, or indeed the evolution of vascular plants to the disappearance of mosses.”
Nick Lane, Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life
“Buchner proposed that fermentation was carried out by biological catalysts that he named enzymes (from the Greek en zyme, meaning in yeast). He concluded that living cells are chemical factories, in which enzymes manufacture the various products.”
Nick Lane, Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the meaning of life
“Pigments such as haemoglobin are coloured because they absorb light of particular colours (bands of light, as in a rainbow) and reflect back light of other colours. The pattern of light absorbed by a compound is known as its absorption spectrum. When binding oxygen, haemoglobin absorbs light in the blue-green and yellow parts of the spectrum, but reflects back red light, and this is the reason why we perceive arterial blood as a vivid red colour. The absorption spectrum changes when oxygen dissociates from haemoglobin in venous blood. Deoxyhaemoglobin absorbs light across the green part of the spectrum, and reflects back red and blue light. This gives venous blood its purple colour.”
Nick Lane, Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the meaning of life
“Every day in the human body, some 10 billion cells die and are replaced by new cells. The cells that die do not meet a violent unpremeditated end, but are removed silently and unnoticed by apoptosis, all evidence of their demise eaten by neighbouring cells. This means that apoptosis balances cell division”
Nick Lane, Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the meaning of life
“In an average person, ATP is produced at a rate of 9 × 1020 molecules per second, which equates to a turnover rate (the rate at which it is produced and consumed) of about 65 kg every day.”
Nick Lane, Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the meaning of life
“Metabolically active cells, such as those of the liver, kidneys, muscles, and brain, have hundreds or thousands of mitochondria, making up some 40 per cent of the cytoplasm. The egg cell, or oocyte, is exceptional: it passes on around 100000 mitochondria to the next generation. In contrast, blood cells and skin cells have very few, or none at all; sperm usually have fewer than 100. All in all, there are said to be 10 million billion mitochondria in an adult human, which together constitute about 10 per cent of our body weight.”
Nick Lane, Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the meaning of life
“Matters came to a head after 1918, when the French scientist Paul Portier published his rhetorical masterpiece Les Symbiotes. He was nothing if not bold, claiming that: ‘All living beings, all animals from Amoeba to Man, all plants from Cryptogams to Dicotyledons are constituted by an association, the emboîtement of two different beings. Each living cell contains in its protoplasm formations, which histologists designate by the name of mitochondria. These organelles are, for me, nothing other than symbiotic bacteria, which I call symbiotes.”
Nick Lane, Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the meaning of life
“Timmis and colleagues found that chloroplast genes are transferred to the nucleus at a rate of about 1 transfer in every 16 000 seeds in the tobacco plant Nicotiana tabacum. This may not sound impressive, but a single tobacco plant produces as many as a million seeds in a single year, which adds up to more than 60 seeds in which at least one chloroplast gene has been transferred to the nucleus—in every plant, in every generation.”
Nick Lane, Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the meaning of life
“Pseudobiceros bedfordi, which engages in a sperm battle when mating. Each is equipped with two penises, with which they fence, attempting to smear sperm onto the other without being fertilized themselves. The ejaculate burns a hole in the skin of the recipient, which is sometimes cavernous enough to cause the loser to tear in half. The problem is that the flatworms all want to be male. The female, almost by definition, invests more of her resources in the offspring, which means that individuals pass on more of their genes if they succeed in fertilizing others, while avoiding being fertilized themselves. This equates to spraying sperm around liberally without becoming pregnant.”
Nick Lane, Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the meaning of life
“As a rule of thumb, the hermaphrodite lifestyle works well if the prospects of finding a mate are slim, for example in low-density or immobile populations (explaining why many plants are hermaphrodites), while separate sexes develop in species with higher population densities or greater mobility.”
Nick Lane, Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the meaning of life
“Horvitz and his colleagues discovered several genes that coded for the effectors of cell death in nematodes—the death genes. Their findings were fascinating in their own right, but by far the most unexpected and important discovery was that there were exact equivalents of the death genes in flies, mammals, and even plants. Cancer researchers had already identified some of these genes at the time, but why or how they were involved in cancer was still unknown. The link with nematodes made their function clear, while giving another demonstration of the fundamental unity of life. Not only were the human genes unambiguously related to the nematode genes, but also they could even be genetically engineered to replace the nematode genes in the worms themselves, where they worked equally well! Mutations that disabled any of the death genes prevented the nematodes from losing their 131 cells by apoptosis as usual. The implications for cancer were plain: if the same mutations had a similar effect in people, then incipient cancer cells would likewise fail to commit suicide, and would instead continue to proliferate to form a tumour.”
Nick Lane, Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the meaning of life
“Much of our internal heat is generated by dissipating the proton gradient across the mitochondrial membranes (see page 183). Since the proton gradient can either power ATP production or heat production, we are faced with alternatives: any protons dissipated to produce heat cannot be used to make ATP. (As we saw in Part 2, the proton gradient has other critical functions too, but if we assume that these remain constant, they don’t affect our argument.) If 30 per cent of the proton gradient is used to produce heat, then no more than 70 per cent can be used to produce ATP. Wallace and colleagues realized that this balance could plausibly shift according to the climate. People living in tropical Africa would gain from a tight coupling of protons to ATP production, so generating less internal heat in a hot climate, whereas the Inuit, say, would gain by generating more internal heat in their frigid environment, and so would necessarily generate relatively little ATP. To compensate for their lower ATP production, they would need to eat more. Wallace set out to find any mitochondrial genes that might influence the balance between heat production and ATP generation, and found several variants that plausibly affected heat production (by uncoupling electron flow from proton pumping). The variants that produced the most heat were favoured in the Arctic, as expected, while those that produced the least were found in Africa.”
Nick Lane, Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the meaning of life
“Energy and life go hand in hand. If you stop breathing, you will not be able to generate the energy you need for staying alive and you’ll be dead in a few minutes. Keep breathing. Now the oxygen in your breath is being transported to virtually every one of the 15 trillion cells in your body, where it is used to burn glucose in cellular respiration. You are a fantastically energetic machine. Gram per gram, even when sitting comfortably, you are converting 10 000 times more energy than the sun every second.”
Nick Lane, Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the meaning of life