Despite the explosion of genetic information in recent years, we have surprisingly little insight into the peculiar history of life on our planet. Most genetic variation – natural experiments in evolution – is found in simple bacteria, yet they have barely changed over four billion years. No complex animals or plants are composed of bacterial cells. Why not? Why did complex cells only arise once in the history of life? And why are we complex beings so alike, with humans and mushrooms and trees all plotting for sex?
Nick Lane will explore the importance of energy flow in shaping life from its very origins to the flamboyant complexity around us, and ask whether energy flow would direct evolution down a similar path on other planets.
Professor Lane is Professor of Evolutionary Biochemistry in the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London. His research is about how energy flow shapes the broad sweep of evolution, focusing on the origin of life and the improbable emergence of complex cells.
Professor Lane was a founding member of the UCL Consortium for Mitochondrial Research and is Co-Director of CLOE, UCL’s new Centre for Life’s Origins and Evolution. He has published four celebrated books, which have been translated into 25 languages, and is a regular contributor to TV and radio as well as scientific and literary festivals. His book Life Ascending won the Royal Society Prize for Science Books in 2010, while Bill Gates praised The Vital Question as “a stunning inquiry into the origins of life”.
Professor Lane’s work was recognised by the 2015 Biochemical Society Award for his outstanding contribution to the molecular bio-sciences, and the 2016 Royal Society Michael Faraday Prize, the UK’s premier award for excellence in communicating science.