My mitochondria are killing me


and if Nick Lane is correct, they are killing you as well.


This one is so broad in scope and so stuffed with detail that it is difficult to summarise.   The main enquiry of the book is into the reasons why animals age, so far as current research can indicate this.

En route, Oxygen describes the role of that element in geology, evolution and biochemistry, pulling numerous strands of investigation together to consider why the Earth retained its water, why organisms were under oxidative stress long before they were exposed to free oxygen, why rates of evolution began to gallop only after oxygen respiration became part of the deal, the damage done by free radicals in animal tissue, the questionable role of vitamin C as both a pro- and an anti-oxidant, but also involved in activating any number of hormones and neurotransmitters, and the question of the leaky mitochondria.

So here is today’s literary challenge:  sketch out the book in Lane’s own words without cheating and just copying his own summary:

… radiation exerts its biological effects through a mechanism that is very similar to the effects of oxygen poisoning …. Respiration can therefore be seen as a very slow form of oxygen poisoning.

The development of multicellular organisms can even be considered an antioxidant response … Our elegant circulatory system, which is usually presented as a means of distributing oxygen to individual cells, can be seen equally as a means of restricting … oxygen delivery to the correct amount.

Given this wide range of actions, the extent to which our normal physiology is fine-tuned by vitamin C is virtually anybody’s guess.

Barja found that bird mitochondria are more oxygen-tight: relatively few free radicals leak from the mitochondria … this explains one long-standing puzzle: the poor relationship between the … lifespan of birds and mammals.

… the composition of mitochondria affects their function and our lifespan, but is not easy to alter by diet.

Sex steals resources that we would otherwise use for staying alive, but then so does being human … perhaps laziness does pay, so long as we don’t eat or drink our way to an early death.*

This is a terrible travesty of a fascinating book.  Go away and read it yourselves.  But you can’t have my copy – I will be keeping it.

* from pp 112, 166, 182, 256, 338, 275

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