The Vital Question

‘Vitalism’ ( as a theory of life, and to which the author alludes here, is not part of modern science. Life is a form of matter based on a self-replicating molecule. There is nothing supernatural or metaphysical about it. Nick Lane ( tackles the question of how life evolved on Earth by exploring the deep link between energy and genes.

The Earth teems with life: in its oceans, forests, skies and cities. Yet there are unresolved questions in biology. We do not fully know how complex life has come about. In The Vital Question, Lane radically reframes evolutionary history, putting forward a solution to conundrums that have puzzled generations of scientists.

For two and a half billion years, single-celled organisms such as bacteria evolved without changing their basic form. Then, on just one occasion in four billion years, the jump was made to complexity. All complex life, from fungi to humans, shares puzzling features, such as sexual reproduction, which are unknown in bacteria. How and why did this radical transformation happen? The answer, Lane argues, lies in energy: all life on Earth lives off a voltage with the strength of a lightning bolt. Building on the pillars of evolutionary theory, Lane’s hypothesis draws on cutting-edge research into the link between energy and cell biology, in order to deliver a fascinating account of evolution from the very origins of life to the emergence of multicellular organisms. The bonus is some deep insight into our own lives and deaths. This is readable and informative science education. You may end up believing your own life is fully described as a sequence of energy transfers.


If you could direct energy to the task, enquire at your local library or consult  for full bibliographic detail.


352 pages in Profile Books

First published 2015

ISBN  978-1781250365



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Nick Lane


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