Dr Nick Lane is a British biochemist and writer. He was awarded the first Provost’s Venture Research Prize in the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London, where he is now a Reader in Evolutionary Biochemistry.
Dr Lane’s research deals with evolutionary biochemistry and bioenergetics, focusing on the origin of life and the evolution of complex cells. Dr Lane was a founding member of the UCL Consortium for Mitochondrial Research, and is leading the UCL Research Frontiers Origins of Life programme. He was awarded the 2011 BMC Research Award for Genetics, Genomics, Bioinformatics and Evolution, and the 2015 Biochemical Society Award for his sustained and diverse contribution to the molecular life sciences and the public understanding of science.
Nick Lane is the author of four acclaimed books on evolutionary biochemistry, which have sold more than 100,000 copies worldwide, and have been translated into 20 languages.
Nick’s first book, Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World (OUP, 2002) is a sweeping history of the relationship between life and our planet, and the paradoxical ways in which adaptations to oxygen play out in our own lives and deaths. It was selected as one of the Sunday Times Books of the Year for 2002.
His second book, Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life (OUP, 2005) is an exploration of the extraordinary effects that mitochondria have had on the evolution of complex life. It was selected as one of The Economist’s Books of the Year for 2005, and shortlisted for the 2006 Royal Society Aventis Science Book Prize and the Times Higher Young Academic Author of the Year Award.
Nick’s third book, Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution (Profile/Norton 2009) is a celebration of the inventiveness of life, and of our own ability to read the deep past to reconstruct the history of life on earth. The great inventions are: the origin of life, DNA, photosynthesis, the complex cell, sex, movement, sight, hot blood, consciousness and death. Life Ascending won the 2010 Royal Society Prize for Science Books, and was named a Book of the Year by New Scientist, Nature, the Times and the Independent, the latter describing him as “one of the most exciting science writers of our time.”
Nick’s most recent book, published in 2015 by WW Norton in the US and Profile in the UK, is entitled The Vital Question: Why is Life the Way it Is? The subtitle in the US is more prosaic but more self-explanatory: Energy, Evolution and the Origins of Complex Life. Apart from that, the book is exactly the same. It attacks a central problem in biology – why did complex life arise only once in four billion years, and why does all complex life share so many peculiar properties, from sex and speciation to senescence? The book argues that energy has constrained the whole trajectory of evolution, from the origin of life itself, to the properties of complex organisms including ourselves.
Nick was also a co-editor of Life in the Frozen State (CRC Press, 2004), the first major text book on cryobiology in the genomic era.
Peer-reviewed articles by Nick Lane have been published in top international journals, including Nature, Science and Cell, and he has published many features in magazines like Nature, New Scientist and Scientific American. He has appeared regularly on TV and radio, and speaks in schools and at literary and science festivals. He also worked for several years in the pharmaceutical industry, ultimately as Strategic Director of Medi Cine, a medical multimedia company based in London, where he was responsible for developing interactive approaches to medical education.
Nick is married to Dr Ana Hidalgo-Simon and lives in London with their two young sons, Eneko and Hugo. He spent many years clinging to rock faces in search of fossils and thrills, but his practical interest in palaeontology is rarely rewarded with more than a devil’s toenail. When not climbing, writing or hunting for wild campsites, he can occasionally be found playing the fiddle in London pubs with the Celtic ensemble Probably Not, or exploring Romanesque churches.