Nick Lane

Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life

9 February 2007, 16:00, EMBL Small Operon

Nick Lane, University College London

Until recently, mitochondria were viewed as little more than the 'powerhouses' of complex eukaryotic cells - fascinating, certainly, but offering few insights into the broader themes of life and evolution. Now, however, there is a renaissance of interest in mitochondria. They are implicated in the origin of the eukaryotic cell, in the evolution of two sexes, in apoptosis, and in ageing and disease; indeed, in questions of our own ancestry through mitochondrial DNA. The key to all these disparate fields is the continued existence of mitochondrial genes – long considered to be merely a fluke of chance, a frozen accident.

In this talk, Nick Lane considers the possibility that a core of mitochondrial genes is necessary to retain control of cellular respiration. He shows how the evolution of complexity, apoptosis, two sexes, ageing and death all arise from the need for two genomes – the mitochondrial and the nuclear - to co-adapt to each other in every cell.