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Book review: Life Ascending, by Nick Lane

Lane is a biochemist, so it is no surprise that biochemistry is prominent in most of his ten chapters. But the discussion is wide-ranging and there is plenty of sometimes surprising information about other aspects of evolution. For each of his topics Lane provides a review of current theories before offering his own conclusion about which he thinks is most likely to be fruitful.

The first chapter is about the notoriously difficult problem of the origin of life. Lane finds that the most likely setting for this is the deep-sea hydrothermal vents. We usually think of these in terms of "black smokers", which in spite of their high temperature are home to an astonishing variety of life. These vents are volcanic, but there is also a second type of vent which is less well-known and is not volcanic, therefore cooler. These are called alkaline vents (black smokers are acidic). More

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