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Nick Lane: CaltechASM Invited Speaker Series

Monday, October 9, 2023
4:00pm to 5:00pm
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CaltechASM, Caltech's student chapter of the American Society for Microbiology, is excited to be hosting Professor Nick Lane for a guest lecture on October 9th at 4PM in Chen 100. Nick Lane is a professor of evolutionary biochemistry at University College London and an award-winning author of multiple popular science books on the origins of life. Please join us for his talk!

Lecture: Monday, October 9th at 4 PM in Chen 100.

A bioenergetic basis for the origin of life and the emergence of consciousness in cells

Nick Lane, Professor of Evolutionary Biochemistry

Co-Director, UCL Centre for Life's Origin and Evolution (CLOE)

Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London

All life is powered by electrical charges on membranes, most fundamentally the protonmotive force. This universal conservation suggests that membrane bioenergetics arose early in evolution. I will argue that life began in deep sea hydrothermal systems entailing labyrinths of cell-like pores where CO2 fixation was driven by a geologically sustained protonmotive force. Experimental work suggests that this far-from-equilibrium setting drove a spontaneous protometabolism with a topology equivalent to the universal core of metabolism. Patterns in the genetic code show that genetic information emerged from direct interactions between amino acids and nucleotides. I will present experimental and theoretical modelling work that together elucidate the emergence of biological information in autotrophic protocells. Finally, I will touch on the importance of electrical membrane potential and associated electromagnetic fields for integrating metabolism at the level of bacterial cells. I will show that electrical membrane potential integrates information on cell state in relation to the environment on a moment-by-moment basis, giving a ‘stream of consciousness' in bacteria. I will conclude with evidence that anaesthetics interact with respiration in modern mitochondria through a spintronic mechanism, offering a window into our own consciousness.

Nick Lane is Professor of Evolutionary Biochemistry at UCL. He was a founding member of the UCL Consortium for Mitochondrial Research and is Co-Director of the UCL Centre for Life's Origins and Evolution. His research is about how energy flow has shaped evolution from the origin of life to the emergence of complex traits such as sex, death and consciousness. Prof Lane has published more than 100 papers in top journals including Nature, Science, Cell and PNAS. He is best known for his five books on energy and evolution, including most recently Transformer: The Deep Chemistry of Life and Death, which Science described as "A thrilling tour… Masterful." He has received many awards for his work, including the 2015 Biochemical Society Award and the 2016 Royal Society Faraday Prize.

For more information, please contact Kate Radford by email at [email protected].