HN Books @HNBooksMonth

The best books of Hacker News.

Hacker News Comments on
Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life

Nick Lane · 7 HN comments
HN Books has aggregated all Hacker News stories and comments that mention "Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life" by Nick Lane.
View on Amazon [↗]
HN Books may receive an affiliate commission when you make purchases on sites after clicking through links on this page.
Amazon Summary
If it weren't for mitochondria, scientists argue, we'd all still be single-celled bacteria. Indeed, these tiny structures inside our cells are important beyond imagining. Without mitochondria, we would have no cell suicide, no sculpting of embryonic shape, no sexes, no menopause, no aging. In this fascinating and thought-provoking book, Nick Lane brings together the latest research in this exciting field to show how our growing insight into mitochondria has shed light on how complex life evolved, why sex arose (why don't we just bud?), and why we age and die. These findings are of fundamental importance, both in understanding life on Earth, but also in controlling our own illnesses, and delaying our degeneration and death. Readers learn that two billion years ago, mitochondria were probably bacteria living independent lives and that their capture within larger cells was a turning point in the evolution of life, enabling the development of complex organisms. Lane describes how mitochondria have their own DNA and that its genes mutate much faster than those in the nucleus. This high mutation rate lies behind our aging and certain congenital diseases. The latest research suggests that mitochondria play a key role in degenerative diseases such as cancer. We also discover that mitochondrial DNA is passed down almost exclusively via the female line. That's why it has been used by some researchers to trace human ancestry daughter-to-mother, to "Mitochondrial Eve," giving us vital information about our evolutionary history. Written by Nick Lane, a rising star in popular science, Power, Sex, Suicide is the first book for general readers on the nature and function of these tiny, yet fascinating structures.
HN Books Rankings

Hacker News Stories and Comments

All the comments and stories posted to Hacker News that reference this book.
Dec 02, 2016 · tudorw on The Excitable Mitochondria
Mitochondria are fascinating, and it seems probably very very old too! Nick Lane ( writes a lot about the subject in;

it is talked about a bit in The Vital Question [1] and a more in depth in Power, Sex, and Suicide [2]

His books are honestly life changing, i can recommend them or him enough.



Thank you.
This book did a great job, but it might be outdated:

In another of Nick Lane's books he mentions compatibility between nuclear and mitochondrial DNA as a possible reason for variation in fertility in different species. If that's true I'd expect the 3-parent process to produce fewer pregnancies per fertilized egg than the normal 2-parent method which runs at around 50%.
which book was that ? Life Ascending?
That's what I was thinking, so if you think so too then probably.
The public perception of evolution misses out on the depth of scientific work being done these days. Two more books that make modern evolutionary research accessible to the public:

1. Nick Lane's Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life - Covers the evolution of the eukaryotic cell, why it's such insanely chance event, why multicellular life depends on it, almost as an aside making a great argument that complex multicellular life is extremely rare in the universe. Also has a couple of fascinating chapters on how the interaction of the mitochondrial genome with the nuclear genome influenced development of sexes and sex.

2. Nick Lane's Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution - Covers very different material and again all fucking fascinating. It's amazing to see how things like sight have evolved over and over and over because they're so fucking useful, and the genetic analysis that allows us to pick out each separate emergence of a feature.

What I find interesting about aspirin is that no one really knows how it works (its "mechanism of action"). Its anti-inflamatory effects are a consequence of something else, not the cause.

In the book "Power, Sex, Suicide"[1], Nick Lane states:

"Curiously, aspirin is also a mild respiratory uncoupler; I do wonder how many of its more mysterious benefits may relate to this property"

He is talking about the mitochondrial respitarory chain. In this context, "uncoupled" means that the electron flow does not generate any ATP; instead, all the energy is dissipated as heat. The interesting thing is that uncoupling the electron transport chain reduces electron leakage ("free radicals") and less free radicals has been associatted with ageing and disease.

Will less electron leakage reduce chronic inflamation ? Who knows ...

Once again, the analogy with computer systems is pretty straightforward: If our back-end system is "inflamed" (read, under heavy load) due to incoming HTTP requests, uncoupling it with a message queue system will have anti-inflammatory effects.



Aspirin is very well understood, Wikipedia has a very extensive article about how it works. It's a pro-drug, when activated takes a place. Search for Arachidonic Acid pathway if you are interested.

Also, By binding free radicals ( a we'll know, side-effect of aspirin and Vitamin C) you get less chances of getting cancer for one.

I meant that the known mechanisms do not explain all its reported benefits. In the Wikipedia article that you mention this is clearly stated:

"However, other effects of aspirin, such as uncoupling oxidative phosphorylation in mitochondria, and the modulation of signaling through NF-κB, are also being investigated."

Hi there,

I think you need to explain yourself a bit better - you have made a statement that is demonstrably false, at least in the sense that you have used it -

aspirin is that no one really knows how it works

- Aspirin works by a very well understood mechanism of binding irreversibly to the COX enzyme, with a preference for COX1 over COX2. there is no debate about this.

Thankyou for pointing me down the rabbit-hole regarding uncoupling and the decrease in free radical production this creates [2], something I was not previously aware of

[1] Uncoupling of intestinal mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation and inhibition of cyclooxygenase are required for the development of NSAID-enteropathy in the rat doi/10.1046/j.1365-2036.2000.00723.x/

[2] Mitochondria and reactive oxygen species 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2009.05.004

Indeed. Wording is important.

I meant that the known mechanism that you have mentioned does not explain all its reported benefits. Specifically in the anti-inflammatory effect, it seems like inhibition of prostaglandin synthesis (via COX enzyme binding) is not the reason[1].

As aspirin has so many potential benefits, it seems to me that it has to have some effect in some very basic and common site and the mitochondrial respiratory chain is a good, if not best, candidate.

If you are interested in uncoupling and free radical production, Peter[2] has a good amount of info about it.

At any rate, aspirin has many knowns unkowns; that´s what I meant in my original post.



Thanks for pointing me to that blog, really interesting stuff. Rob
The fact that relatively high intelligence has arisen from many architectures multiple times on this planet bodes well for the frequency of intelligent life on exoplanets.

As I remember from the book "Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life" [1], the bottleneck may be not the evolution of the intelligence, and not even of life itself, but specifically multicellular life. There are reasons to believe it only happened once, and for about 1bn years before that life already existed in single-cellular form, which gives an idea on how improbable the step from single to multiple cell organisms is. I am vague on specifics though, but can wholeheartedly recommend a book to anyone interested in evolution and origins of life.


I'm no expert, but in my understanding the transition from unicellular to multicellular can go pretty smoothly via symbiosis.
Actually, I stand corrected - not the multicellular life evolved once, but the eucaryotic cell. According to the book, eucaryotic cell evolved by acquisition of mitochondria. Energy generated by mitochondria allowed the eucaryotic cells to be much bigger than procaryotic ones, and to support multiple different organelles.
Yup! The formation of the first Eukaryotic cell is a mystery. Eukaryotes have features of both bacteria and archea, yet doesn't have a clear origin in either of them. Here's a book that goes into more depth on the important stages of evolution:

On a tangent, my dismissiveness of creationists has only increased since reading The Major Transitions in Evolution. There are some really perplexing things in early evolution that we don't understand at all. And yet creationists like to talk about chimps and rocks.

Here's a book that goes into more depth on the important stages of evolution

And the Kindle edition is more expensive than the paper one ... makes me wonder how their pricing process works?

Just bought it! Thanks
According to an interesting book of a Russian paleontologist Kirill Eskov [1] there were a lot of "evolutionary tries" to create a multicellular life. And as soon as it became "profitable" the regular try conquered the world.

IIRC it was related to increased oxygen level.

[1] "История Земли и жизни на ней" ("History of the Earth and its lifeforms")

So what is it that they have in place of mitochondiria?

A fascinating book "Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life" ( suggested that the multicellullar organisms on Earth evolved only once, when the symbiotic relationship between two types of bacteria was formed - one of them became "host", and the other became mitochondria and specialized for energy production.

The book suggests that the conditions for this to happen were very unusual and are unlikely to ever happen again. It does even suggest that this may mean that life in the Universe, more complicated that single-cell organisms, is very unlikely to evolve.

If eukaryotes evolved more than once, then there's some more hope for extraterrestrial life I suppose ...

They use hydrogenosomes, or something similar, instead:

It looks like the metabolic reaction is somewhat similar to the aerobic one used by mitochondria, but uses hydrogen ions instead of oxygen molecules. Hydrogenosomes may or may not be evolutionarily related to mitochondria.

Here's the original journal article (open access):

> If eukaryotes evolved more than once, then there's some more hope for extraterrestrial life I suppose ...

Wouldn't you call extraterrestrial bacteria `life'?

Well, most people think multicellular when they get excited about life because multicellular is how earth life gets complex. To that end eliminating flukes that happen only once is important.
OK. I am not that discriminating. (Actually, Archae and Bacteria are much more interesting too me.)
HN Books is an independent project and is not operated by Y Combinator or
~ [email protected]
;laksdfhjdhksalkfj more things ~ Privacy Policy ~
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.