By Nick Lane, Professor of Evolutionary Biochemistry, University College London
Cells need a continuous flow of energy and matter to grow. All life on Earth uses the unanticipated mechanism of electrochemical charges across membranes to generate ATP and fix CO2. The protein machinery required to generate and harness this charge is extremely sophisticated, raising the question how such a universally conserved process arose in early cells. I will show that equivalent electrochemical gradients are found across inorganic pores in alkaline hydrothermal vents, and that ion flux may have driven the difficult reaction between hydrogen and carbon dioxide to form organic matter and ultimately the first cells.
Prof Lane’s research is on the way that energy flow has shaped evolution over 4 billion years, using a mixture of theoretical and experimental work to address the origin of life, the evolution of complex cells and downright peculiar behaviour such as sex. He was a founding member of the UCL Consortium for Mitochondrial Research, and is Co-Director of the UCL Centre for Life’s Origin and Evolution (CLOE). He was awarded the 2009 UCL Provost’s Venture Research Prize, the 2011 BMC Research Award for Genetics, Genomics, Bioinformatics and Evolution, the 2015 Biochemical Society Award for his outstanding contribution to molecular life sciences and 2016 Royal Society Michael Faraday Prize and Lecture, the UK’s premier award for excellence in communicating science.
Nick Lane is also the author of four acclaimed books on evolutionary biochemistry, which have sold more than 150,000 copies worldwide, and been translated into 25 languages.
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