Bill Gates reviews “The Vital Question” by Nick Lane

Bill Gates in his own blog:

ScreenHunter_1898 Apr. 28 18.11Last year Trevor Mundel, who runs our foundation’s global health work, suggested that I read a book called The Vital Question. I had never heard of the book or its author, a biologist at University College London named Nick Lane. A few months later, I hadn’t just read The Vital Question—I had also ordered Nick’s three other books, read two of them, and arranged to meet him in New York City.

Nick reminds me of writers like Jared Diamond, people who develop a grand theory that explains a lot about the world. He is one of those original thinkers who makes you say: More people should know about this guy’s work.

At its heart, Nick’s work is an attempt to right a scientific wrong by getting people to fully appreciate the role that energy plays in all living things. The Vital Question begins with a bang: “There is a black hole at the heart of biology.” (I wish more science books got off to such a ripping start.) “Bluntly put, we do not know why life is the way it is. All complex life on earth shares a common ancestor, a cell that arose from simple bacterial progenitors on just one occasion in 4 billion years. Was this a freak accident, or did other ‘experiments’ in the evolution of complexity fail?” Why does all complex life—every plant and animal you can see—share certain traits, like getting old and reproducing via sex? Why didn’t different types of complex life evolve? And if there is life on other planets, would it necessarily have these same traits? Or could E.T. reproduce by cloning himself?

Nick argues that we can only start to answer these questions by fully appreciating the role of energy.

More here. [Thanks to Sean Carroll.]