*Transformer: The Deep Chemistry of Life and Death*

By Nick Lane, here is one excerpt:

Should NASA and other space agencies back missions to Mars, or to the icy moons of Saturn and Jupiter, Enceladus and Europa?  If light is essential for the origin of life, then Enceladus is the last place to look, as those who favour warm ponds are quick to assert.  But if life emerges from deep-sea hydrothermal vents, then Enceladus is an ideal place to look, as beneath its icy crust is a liquid ocean bubbling with hydrogen gas and small organic molecules, to judge from the plumes that jet hundreds of miles into space through cracks in the ice.  It’s the first place I’d look.

Arguably even more important are the practical connotations for metabolism and our own health today.  Is the Krebs cycle at the heart of metabolism because life was forced into existence that way, by thermodynamics — fate! — or was this chemistry invented later by genes, just a trivial outcome of information systems that could be rewired, if we are smart enough?  Is the difference between ageing and disease an tractable outcome of metabolism, written into cells from the very origin of life, or a question for gene editing and synthetic biology to come?  That in turn boils down to genes first or metabolism first?  The thrust of this book is that energy is primal — energy flow shapes genetic information.  I will argue that the structure of metabolism was set in stone (perhaps literally in deep-sea rocky vents) from the beginning.

Among the other things I learned from this book are the importance of Otto Warburg, why men get mitochondrial diseases more than women do (there is some speculative component here), why respiration is suppressed with age, why the brain prefers to burn glucose, what it might mean to think of cancer as “growth-based” rather than genes-based, and most of all the importance of the Krebs cycle and reverse Krebs cycle for a broader array of biological questions.  The final section considers why chloroform seems to rob fruit flies of their “consciousness.”

I can’t pretend to evaluate the more controversial claims of the author, but at the very least I learned a great deal reading this book and it has stimulated my interest in the topic areas more generally.  You can buy it here.



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