Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life by Nick Lane, PhD

My background is predominantly in engineering fields, so I have spent much of time since starting my PhD learning about basic biology and biochemistry. These subject areas have previously frustrated me because they require a lot of time and effort in order to memorize seemingly endless genes, proteins, signals, cycles, and pathways. Therefore, I appreciate faculty/professors who are able to make their research in these subject areas sound exciting. These skilled faculty are far more likely to hold my attention and get me interested in their research.

One such faculty in my PhD program studies mitochondrial biology and recommended “Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life” by Dr. Nick Lane to anyone interested in learning more about the powerhouses of the cell.

Power Sex Suicide

I am not a huge reader of mass-published non-fiction science books, mainly because I spend large amounts of my time at work reading scientific literature and I don’t like the idea of spending my free time doing the same thing. This book was an exception to that because a large part of my PhD project is studying mitochondrial bioenergetics and I knew I needed to learn more about these organelles.

“Power, Sex, Suicide” effectively walks the reader through the evolutionary origins of mitochondria, the functions they have in the cell, and how they could be the keys to everlasting life. After reading this book, I have a much better appreciation and understanding for how these tiny structures are more than just the powerhouses of the cell. However, I think that the author spends too much time referencing the names and institutional affiliations of every researcher who tested, theorized, or asserted something discussed in the book.

While I understand the purpose of giving due credit to the valuable effort and countless hours spent discovering everything that we know about mitochondria, I think it distracts the reader’s attention from the more relevant/interesting information on mitochondria. I am never going to remember who, in what year, at which institution first came up with the idea that mitochondria originally came from bacteria. The author’s constant need to cite all researchers involved causes this book to take far longer to finish reading than [what I think] is preferred by the average reader.

I respect the vast amounts of knowledge and expertise that Dr. Lane assembled within this book, but I think he could have reached a much wider audience if he had focused on the science and less on the people.

With that said, I recommend this book to anyone interested in the complete research history of everything we know (up to 2005) about mitochondria. Having some background in science, I think, helps with fully understanding everything discussed, but Dr. Lane does a commendable job making the subject matter comprehensible for all.


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