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Why is Life the Way it Is? with Nick Lane

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The vital question: Earth teems with life but why is it the way it is, and how did it begin in the first place? Nick Lane unravels the tangled history of life. Subscribe for regular science videos: http://bit.ly/RiSubscRibe Nick's book "The Vital Question: Why is life the way it is?" is available to buy now - https://geni.us/JjoZRx Nick Lane and Matthew Cobb came together to tell the story of life. Watch Matthew Cobb’s take on the tale here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYxASuEqMlY And watch the Q&A here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L4N6ws1YTEk Nick Lane is an evolutionary biochemist in the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London. His work focuses on the origin of life, and the origin and evolution of eukaryotes. He is also author of prize-winning popular science books, including 'Life ascending'. Subscribe for regular science videos: http://bit.ly/RiSubscRibe The Ri is on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ri_science and Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/royalinstitution and Tumblr: http://ri-science.tumblr.com/ Our editorial policy: http://www.rigb.org/home/editorial-policy Subscribe for the latest science videos: http://bit.ly/RiNewsletter Product links on this page may be affiliate links which means it won't cost you any extra but we may earn a small commission if you decide to purchase through the link.
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Text Comments (56)
citizenschallengeYT (6 days ago)
6:00 I got an entirely different take on that. Regarding germs having "done nothing" - to me those evolutionary trees and what Lane and others are teaching us about the full breath of life on Earth - is revealing to me that microorganisms have been evolving along side the rest of complex life, helping support the increasingly complexity, etc, doing their thing.   Evolving in their own tiny world. Does that make sense? Or?
John Quill Taylor (6 days ago)
I was hoping to learn more about the lichens: my search for the truth continues . . . - j q t -
Le Frog (5 months ago)
Question:Is *the vital question – energy, evolution, and the origins of complex life* the same book as *Vital Question: Why is life the way it is* ??
Raydensheraj (6 months ago)
I study Astrophysics but try to find time concerning Abiogenesis and Evolution/Biology. I own Ruse & Travis Evolution: The first four billion years. I also owe a couple Books specifically on Astrobiology like Paul Davies "The Eerie Silence", David Grinspoon " Lonely Planets" and "First Contact" by Marc Kaufman and my favorite "Rare Earth" by Ward & Brownlee...of course I have Darwin's Origin of Species. I purchased this week Nick Lanes " The Vital Question" and am in the process of reading it... I'm asking individuals here watching the video - which other Books are "must reads" concerning Abiogenesis, Evolution, DNA/Genetics - basically Biology... And a brief explanation/review would also be great. Thanks fellow Science lovers (:
DocFrobnitz (8 months ago)
Excellent talk, great to have a speaker who just runs with their ideas, doesn't dumb things down or lower the conceptual bandwidth. A science lecture *should* leave you with a list of notes, things to look up, books to read.
Todd Sloan (9 months ago)
That's a lot to say we are bacteria lost in a mess.
L Dewey (9 months ago)
Dr. Nick Lane's book, "The Vital Question", blew me away. I am a physician, but I have followed closely for the past four decades (yes that dates me) the search for possible mechanisms as to how life first evolved on Earth. (In Dr. Lane's words: the shopping list for Life is rock, water, and CO2). I grew up in the era of the Viking Mars space missions, and have followed this topic as a hobby ever since. (I even took biochemistry as an "elective" in college, and have continued to study it ever since...) Dr. Nick Lane lays out in logical format HOW it could be done (creation of the first life on Earth), and HOW complex life (i.e., eukaryotes) may have evolved, and WHY advanced life is likely to be rare (at least much MORE rare than bacterial life) in the universe. He is an engaging, humorous, creative and passionate writer. (Dr. Lane's earlier book, "Oxygen - the Molecule that Made the World", is a wonderful adjunct, even though it was published in 2002, and is still relevant and accurate.)
animumaurarium (1 year ago)
18:00 "Extraordinary professor" simply means that he wasn't given a full professorship, i.e. an "ordinary" professorship. The two types of professor are also called "extraordinarius" and "ordinarius".
T S (1 year ago)
Amazing talk!
Noah Harrison (1 year ago)
5:24 is that a wild Brian Cox in the audience?
Eddie King (1 year ago)
Highly recommend Dr Lane's book, Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World.
Crokto (1 year ago)
Oh man, I actually cracked up at "bog standard algae'. I think that means I'm gonna be a dad.
Ernst Polania (3 years ago)
No god in life creation. LIFE is The Universal Law like Gravitation or magnetismus in the universe. the electrical fields, minerals, medium, etc is all and life start. Life not for mart meteore.
todd s (3 years ago)
WOW! Just saw Eric Idle in the audience at 2:22/2:23 front row second from left ...I LOVE Nick's Book the Vital Question- amazing! and Eric Idle in audience- can't beat that! :)
citizenschallengeYT (6 days ago)
Dang, you have a good eye.
PongoXBongo (1 year ago)
Always look on the bright side of 'the origins of' life. ;)
Thomas Underhill (3 years ago)
Im sorry to say this, but I really didn't enjoy his book the vital question, I couldn't get past the first chapter, too much anthropic bias, subjective hypothetical scenarios, little/no sources cited on things or hell, he never even gives an observation to back up his claims, and his "argument" is based off of "well this happens, but sometimes it doesn't" then he goes on after stating a certain hypothesis as "wrong" (stating his opinion as fact) because "if life proceeded because of X, then Y would be the result" but NEVER gives a fucking example of why this is the case, its as if he doesn't know what r and k selection theory is,... any biochemists or molecular biologist read the whole book ? Does it get better? Is there anything to gain from reading this?
Christopher Frasher (4 months ago)
@Thomas Underhill I see that
Thomas Underhill (4 months ago)
@Christopher Frasher Did nobody teach you about general relativity ? Im confused
Christopher Frasher (4 months ago)
@Thomas Underhill Stick to biology if your understanding of physics is "gravity = relativity"
Dan The Bike Man (1 year ago)
This is not an easy read. After getting through it the 3rd or 4th time it really began to sink in to a point where the vocabulary had meaning so the underlying concepts became clear. I am not a biochemist. So sorry to say if you could not make it past the first chapter you probably missed all the major concepts. You may want to ready Nick Lane's previous book first, or one of the thousands of books from the 30 some scientists Lane references and similar. The reason Lane uses the diction that disagrees with you, or the hypothetical stance, is because, I think, there really is a black hole in biology. We do not have direct evidence of how life started. Scientists can however, use an unbelievable array of techniques and tools which continue to reveal cells and their processes to an ever increasing detail and that is key here. Only now can we sequence the complete genome rapidly. Only now can we synthesize complex proteins and decode how they fold and unfold. Lane makes no independent leaps of faith here. His work is contingent on an army of scientists and decades of research. Lane is a connector, which is the only way we can remotely start to understand what life may have looked like billions of years ago. Connecting current research across multiple disciplines. Geology, geochemistry, chemistry, genetics, oceanography, physics, etc.... It may bother or upset certain people to hear Lane explain that life was not created out of thin air by a creator, but once you begin to understand how very unique and unlikely the combination of conditions necessary to create complex cells and hence intelligent life, you can replace divine creation of man with the miracle of our unbelievably rare earth.
Penny Lane (3 years ago)
31:00 "It forces you to have sex." #RapedByEndosymbionts
DNAunion (3 years ago)
He has a brainfart at 6:55, calling Euglena a bacterium. He knows better .... the words just got ahead of his mouth.
Thomas Underhill (3 years ago)
+DNAunion I really didn't like it, I couldn't get past the first chapter, but everyone on the internet acts like its amazing. feel like I'm taking crazy pills
DNAunion (3 years ago)
+thomas underhill I ordered it, but had moved and it went to my last address. I should get it in a week or so.
Thomas Underhill (3 years ago)
+DNAunion Did you read his book "the vital question" ?
DNAunion (3 years ago)
+thomas underhill Well yes, I thought it was really unusual for a scientist like Nick Lane to bother to respond to a mere YouTube comment. But at the same time, I find it unusual for someone who is not Nick Lane to create a YouTube account as Nick Lane, in order to come to his defense, and to do so in a manner that makes sense and clears up the alleged problem. I've defended many scientists on YouTube, but never faked an account in their name to do so. Either way, I accept the explanation that, in the video at 6:55, Nick Lane was not referring to Euglena but was instead talking about the tiny bacterial cell on the slide (which I did not see the first time I watched the video: maybe a bototm-of-the-screen pop-up ad was covering it up??).
Thomas Underhill (3 years ago)
you don't think its weird ? 
z4k (3 years ago)
Enjoyed this talk, particularly Nick Lane's frank honesty about the established theories, and how new understanding continues to be developed. The RI talks often seem to fall into one of two types. (1) aimed at school children. (2) aimed at adults. I rarely watch the former as I find the presentation style a little patronising. It would be helpful, when receiving email updates of new videos, to have a clear indication of this split.
OpiatedBliss (3 years ago)
that image of the horizontal gene transfer really gives new meaning to the primordial ooze. one of shared matter and shared genes
Freek Hoekstra (3 years ago)
Why is more complex life more relevant to evolve towards then single cellular organisms. in the end what matters is survival and procreation, there is no basis to suggest more complex individuals have a bigger chance of surviving as a species. in fact Bacteria and other smaller singular lifeforms are some of the ruggest, most robust and hardest to erradicate from our planet. so given Survival of the fittest, they do extrememly well, also who says multiple things have not developed in parralel, and successfull change instead of being transferred by lateral transfer, redevelopment over time.
PongoXBongo (1 year ago)
That's not really how it works. Competition is essentially one way. You only need to do better than your immediate predecessor. Germs are dangerous to humans, but not so dangerous as to wipe us out (despite several valiant attempts). Complexity enhances the ability to adapt faster and in more varied ways (now including tools/technology).
Thomas Underhill (3 years ago)
+Freek Hoekstra agreed, did you read his book the vital question? I just bough it and am debating returning it
mountainhobo (3 years ago)
17:50 "Extraordinary Professor of Anatomy" was actually a lower title than "Ordinary Professor of Anatomy". Germany was not the only country which used that hierarchy.
mountainhobo (3 years ago)
@dlwatib Semantically interesting, but for comparison, it is roughly like American "Associate Professor". Sometimes a visiting professor might also be called extraordinary, implying without chair.
dlwatib (3 years ago)
+mountainhobo So it really should be translated Superfluous Professor of Anatomy?
OpiatedBliss (3 years ago)
+mountainhobo lol that's pretty ordinary
eXtremeDR (3 years ago)
One thing is obvious - there are some fundamental flaws in our current theory of evolution. One is the ignorance of nature's highest order: To maintain the highest possible diversity at any time - be it between species or within species.
PongoXBongo (1 year ago)
Only as much diversity as the ecosystem can support. There's a reason there aren't thousands of sub/species of larger animals (versus say insects/bacteria). There isn't enough energy to feed or enough pressure to drive such unnecessary diversity. Nature is as complex as it needs to be, but no more so.
amino fuel (3 years ago)
thank you for the video!
TheRcls (3 years ago)
ThePoptartster (3 years ago)
Who wouldn't love a dynamic cytoskeleton? Totally worth the adenosine triphosphate. :P
mansoor m (3 years ago)
Thank you for the post - I always love to hear Nick Lane. Of course reading his books are even more rewarding - Thank you all for making life meaningful.

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