From the renowned biochemist and author of The Vital Question, an illuminating inquiry into the Krebs cycle and the origins of life.
“Nick Lane’s exploration of the building blocks that underlie life’s big fundamental questions—the origin of life itself, aging, and disease—have shaped my thinking since I first came across his work. He is one of my favorite science writers.”—Bill Gates
What brings the Earth to life, and our own lives to an end?
For decades, biology has been dominated by the study of genetic information. Information is important, but it is only part of what makes us alive. Our inheritance also includes our living metabolic network, a flame passed from generation to generation, right back to the origin of life. In Transformer, biochemist Nick Lane reveals a scientific renaissance that is hiding in plain sight —how the same simple chemistry gives rise to life and causes our demise.
Lane is among the vanguard of researchers asking why the Krebs cycle, the “perfect circle” at the heart of metabolism, remains so elusive more than eighty years after its discovery. Transformer is Lane’s voyage, as a biochemist, to find the inner meaning of the Krebs cycle—and its reverse—why it is still spinning at the heart of life and death today.
Lane reveals the beautiful, violent world within our cells, where hydrogen atoms are stripped from the carbon skeletons of food and fed to the ravenous beast of oxygen. Yet this same cycle, spinning in reverse, also created the chemical building blocks that enabled the emergence of life on our planet. Now it does both. How can the same pathway create and destroy? What might our study of the Krebs cycle teach us about the mysteries of aging and the hardest problem of all, consciousness?
Transformer unites the story of our planet with the story of our cells—what makes us the way we are, and how it connects us to the origin of life. Enlivened by Lane’s talent for distilling and humanizing complex research, Transformer offers an essential read for anyone fascinated by biology’s great mysteries. Life is at root a chemical phenomenon: this is its deep logic.
About the Author
Nick Lane is professor of evolutionary biochemistry at University College London and an award-winning author of five books. He codirects UCL’s Centre for Life’s Origins and Evolution (CLOE) and lives in London. Bill Gates calls him “one of my favorite science writers.”
The writing in the book is so articulate and the unfolding narrative so ambitious that one is carried along helter-skelter… The late Sir Hans would indeed be amazed.
— Wieland Gievers - South African Journal of Science
[A] thrilling journey . . . the book is a tour de force.
— Laura Eme and Courtney W. Stairs - Nature Ecology & Evolution
[An] indefatigable exploration of the genesis of biology . . . [Lane] beautifully lays out the sheer improbability of our biosphere, explains why life may be exceedingly rare in our universe, and considers death as a process, not simply as an instantaneous end.
— Hamilton Cain - The Atlantic
The story in Transformer is not just lively and engaging but filled with stimulating ideas about life’s origins and evolution.
— Philip Ball - Nautilus
A thrilling tour of the remarkable stories behind the discoveries of some of life’s key metabolic pathways and mechanisms. [Lane] lays bare the human side of science… The book brings to life the chemistry that brings us to life.
— Joseph Moran - Science
Bold . . . passionate . . . a dramatically revisionist account [of the] origins of life.
— James Somers - New Yorker
Transformer is a complex yet accessible, illuminating, and thrilling exploration of the vitality and elemental mysteries of our existence.
— George Kendall - Booklist
This is probably the best book on biology (and more specifically biochemistry) that I've ever read.
— Brian Clegg, author of Game Theory
One of the most creative of today's biologists ... this is a book filled with big ideas, many of which are bold instances of lateral thinking.
— Michael Marshall - New Scientist
In this compulsively readable book, Lane takes us on a riveting journey, ranging from the flow of energy to new ways of understanding cancer.
— Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of The Emperor of All Maladies
I loved every page of Nick Lane’s new book.
— Lee Smolin, author of Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution
Hugely ambitious and tremendously exciting.
— Olivia Judson, author of Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation
In this fascinating book, Nick Lane brings together biology, chemistry, and physics to illuminate the role of energy in bringing matter alive.
— Sean Carroll, author of Something Deeply Hidden
Nick Lane’s marvelously engaging Transformer refocused my astronomer’s gaze on the vital chemistry of life on our own planet.
— John Grunsfeld, former NASA chief scientist and astronaut