For decades, biology has been dominated by information – the power of genes. Yet there is no difference in information content between a living cell and one that died a moment ago. A better question goes back to the formative years of biology: what processes animate cells and set them apart from lifeless matter?
In Transformer, Nick Lane turns the standard view upside down, capturing an extraordinary scientific renaissance that is hiding in plain sight. At its core is an amazing cycle of reactions that uses energy to transform inorganic molecules into the building blocks of life – and the reverse. To understand this cycle is to fathom the deep coherence of the living world. It connects the origin of life with the devastation of cancer, the first photosynthetic bacteria with our own mitochondria, sulfurous sludges with the emergence of consciousness, and the trivial differences between ourselves with the large-scale history of our planet.
Nick Lane is a biochemist and writer. He is Professor of Evolutionary Biochemistry at University College London, and the author of Life Ascending, which won the 2010 Royal Society Prize, and The Vital Question, of which Bill Gates wrote 'this biology book blew me away'.