Oxygen: The Molecule That Made the World

Posted by Rezwan Razani on Aug 06, 2012 at 10:06 PM
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Author: Nick Lane

What a great day!  Curiosity landed on Mars this morning and I just spent the evening with family watching the Discovery Channel recap of this historic event. What marvelous beings:  Humans and their Curiosity!

Curiosity’s great mission now begins:  the search for life on Mars.

As we wait to see what Curiosity discovers, crack open “Oxygen” by Nick Lane.  This book made me fall in love with geology, paleontology, evolutionary biochemistry; and see the signature of life in all the rocks and strata that I took for granted.  All those beautiful layers of different colored rock in the painted deserts of Zion?  Fossilized bacteria carcasses and a marker for the atmospheric gases of the day.  What a palette!  What amazing patience!  Billions of years of bacteria, living, dying, incorporating atmospheric gases and excreting different mineral compounds.

Like the layers of earth it describes, the book is packed with layers of detailed information.  It will overwhelm you with perspective on the elements and their role in a planet’s life, and a sense of how very long our planet existed with only single-celled critters. 

A bonus for those of us who promote nuclear energy:  the revelation in chapter 6:  Oxygen Poisoning and X-Irradiation:  A mechanism in common.  Who knew radiation poisoning has the exact same mechanism as oxygen poisoning?  Or that the antidote to both is, of course, anti-oxidants. 

From Amazon:

In Oxygen, Nick Lane takes the reader on an enthralling journey as he unravels the unexpected ways in which oxygen spurred the evolution of life and death.

He shows how oxygen underpins the origin of biological complexity, the birth of photosynthesis, the sudden evolution of animals, the need for two sexes, the accelerated aging of cloned animals like Dolly the sheep, and the surprisingly long lives of bats and birds.

Drawing on this grand evolutionary canvas, Oxygen offers fresh perspectives on our own lives and deaths, explaining modern killer diseases, why we age, and what we can do about it.

Advancing revelatory new ideas, following chains of evidence, the book ranges through many disciplines, from environmental sciences to molecular medicine. The result is a captivating vision of contemporary science and a humane synthesis of our place in nature. This remarkable book will redefine the way we think about the world.


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 Oxygen: The Molecule That Made the World

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