Van Leeuwenhoek Lecture on BioScience
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 to fix CO2. The protein machinery required to generate and harness this charge is extremely sophisticated, raising the question of how such a universally conserved process arose in early cells. Nick Lane will use the mechanism of CO2 fixation in methanogens as a guide to the possible prebiotic origins of growth and intermediary metabolism. He will show that equivalent electrochemical gradients are found across inorganic pores in alkaline hydrothermal vents, and that proton flux may have driven the difficult reaction between H2 and CO2 to form organic matter and ultimately the first cells.