Nick Lane

nick.lane@ucl.ac.uk

 

SYNOPIS

  • Reader in Evolutionary Biochemistry, Research Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL

  • Researching the role of bioenergetics in the major transitions of evolution, from the origin of life to death

  • Author of three acclaimed books on the origin and evolution of life and the planet

  • First recipient of the UCL Provost’s Venture Research Prize and Fellowship

  • Winner of the Biochemical Society Award, 2015

  • Leading the UCL Research Frontiers Origins of Life programme

  • Founding member of the UCL Consortium for Mitochondrial Research (CfMR)

  • Winner of the Royal Society Prize for Science Books, 2010

  • Honorary Reader, UCL Medical School

  • Good publication record including papers in Nature, Science, Cell etc.

  • Regular invited lecturer at universities and keynote speaker at conferences worldwide

  • Committed to public engagement through award-winning books, feature articles, public talks, interviews and media appearances

 

AWARDS and ESTEEM

  • Winner of the Biochemical Society Award, 2015

  • CEMI Fellow, California Institute of Technology, 2013

  • Winner of the BioMed Central Genetics, Genomics, Bioinformatics and Evolution Research Award, 2012

  • Brockington Visitor, Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada, 2011

  • Life Ascending Winner of the Royal Society Prize for Science Books, 2010

  • Distinguished Visiting Scholar, Rutgers University, 2009

  • First UCL Provost’s Venture Research Prize, 2009

  • Power, Sex, Suicide shortlisted for the Times Higher Education Young Academic Author of the Year, 2006

  • Power, Sex, Suicide shortlisted for the Royal Society Prize for Science Books, 2006

  • Books named among books of the Year by Nature, The Economist, The Times, The Telegraph, The Independent, The Sunday Times and New Scientist

  • Books sold more than 100,000 copies and translated into 20 languages

  • Prize winner in the New Scientist Millennial Science Essay Competition, 1994

  • Prize winner in the Daily Telegraph Young Science Writer of the Year Award, 1993

  • Annual recipient of the Sir Isaac Holden Scholarship, 1985-1988

 

RESEARCH POSITIONS

  • Reader in Evolutionary Biochemistry, Research Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL, October 2013 - ongoing

  • Senior Lecturer, Research Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL, October 2012 - 2013

  • First UCL Provost’s Venture Research Fellowship, Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL, October 2009–September 2012

  • Leading the UCL Research Frontiers Origins of Life programme, 2010–ongoing

  • Member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute Focus Group on Thermodynamics, Disequilibrium and Evolution, 2010–ongoing

  • Nominated as Member of the Editorial Board of Proceedings of the Royal Society B

  • Founding member of the UCL Consortium for Mitochondrial Research, 2008–ongoing

  • Honorary Reader, UCL Medical School, University College London, 2006–ongoing

  • Honorary Senior Research Fellow, UCL Medical School, 2002-2006

  • Honorary Research Fellow, UCL Medical School, 1997-2002

  • PhD student, Royal Free Hospital Medical School 1991-1995

  • Scientific Officer, MRC Clinical Research Centre, Northwick Park Hospital 1988-1991

 

RESEARCH INTERESTS

I am working on the evolutionary importance of biological energy transduction, specifically chemiosmosis, by which cells generate energy in the form of ATP by way of a gradient of protons across a membrane. Called ‘the most counter-intuitive idea in biology since Darwin’, the mechanism has been elucidated at atomic resolution, yet its evolutionary significance has received little attention. I am focusing on three major transitions in evolution: the origin of life itself; the origin of the complex (eukaryotic) cell; and the evolution of the major traits shared by all eukaryotic cells, in particular sex, sexes, speciation and senescence. I hypothesise that chemiosmosis played a critical role in each transition.

The origin of life

Chemiosmosis was strictly necessary for the origin of life; scalar chemical reactions cannot provide enough ATP for growth in the absence of photosynthesis or oxygen. Chemiosmosis does, as gradients permit substoichiometric conservation of energy, thereby transcending chemistry. Some hydrothermal vents provide natural proton gradients, equivalent to those in modern living cells, potentially explaining why proton gradients are universal across life. I am leading a research initiative across UCL. We have built an ‘origin-of-life’ reactor and are now undertaking a detailed programme of experimental research into the origin of life.

The origin of the eukaryotic cell

All complex life on earth is composed of eukaryotic cells. The eukaryotic cell arose from prokaryotes just once in 4 billion years, via a rare endosymbiosis between two prokaryotes. By controlling chemiosmosis across an extremely wide area of internal membranes, the tiny endosymbiont genomes enabled a 200,000-fold leap in the host cell’s genome size. This in turn underpinned eukaryotic genome complexity and the origin of complex life. From this perspective, I am developing new theoretical research into the origin of the eukaryotic cell, cell cycle, meiosis and sex.

The evolution of basal eukaryotic traits

Complex eukaryotic cells cannot exist without highly reduced mitochondrial genomes, but the requirement for interaction between nuclear and mitochondrial genomes means that they must co-adapt for cells to survive. However, the two genomes differ radically in their tempo and mode of evolution. Some of the most basic eukaryotic traits, including two sexes, speciation and senescence, may be a consequence of the need to co-adapt genomes. I am working with mathematicians to develop theoretical models and plan related laboratory studies, and planning an experimental programme.

 

GRANT FUNDING

  • Leading the UCL Research Frontiers Origins of Life programme, currently funded by EPSRC (£28,000) to build and test a prototype origin of life reactor

  • Principal Investigator on a Project Grant from the Leverhulme Trust for £250,000 to fund the research programme with the UCL ‘origin of life reactor’

  • Winner of the Provost's Venture Research Prize (£150,000)
  • Project Partner in the UK Neoproterozoic Network, awarded £1.2 million by NERC as part of the Co-evolution of Life and the Planet programme

  • Secured £6,000 in funding from the Biochemical Society, UCL Grand Challenges and UCL Basic Life Sciences Research Domain to support the first UCL Symposium on the Origin of Life.

 

FACILITATION

  • Leading the UCL Research Frontiers programme on the Origins of Life

  • Founding member of the UCL Consortium for Mitochondrial Research (CfMR)

  • Member of the Steering Committee of the UCL Basic Life Sciences Research Domain

  • Active contribution to department in conducting interviews, lecturing, supervising, setting and marking exam questions, and hosting departmental visitors (including four invited speakers as part of the OoLTT, CEE and GEE seminar programmes)

  • Principal Scientific Organizer of a Royal Society Discussion Meeting to be held in November 2012, on Energy Transduction and Genome Function – An Evolutionary Synthesis and a satellite meeting at the Kavli Centre on Bioenergetics and the Major Evolutionary Transitions.

  • Principal Scientific Organizer of the First UCL Origins of Life Symposium, November 2011

  • Referee for various funding agencies, including the US National Science Foundation, NASA Astrobiology Institute, the Wellcome Trust, and the MRC.

  • Referee for various journals, including Cell, PNAS, Proc R Soc B, Phil Trans R Soc B, PLoS Biol, Genome Biol Evol, BioEssays, and J Theoret Biol.

 

LECTURING and SUPERVISING

Contribution to Life Sciences undergraduate courses:

  • Organizer and principal lecturer on 2nd year undergraduate course BIOL2016 ‘Energy and Evolution’

  • 2 lectures on 1st year undergraduate course BIOL1006 ‘Life on Earth’

  • 4 lectures on 3rd year undergraduate course BIOL3012 ‘Sex, Genes and Evolution’

  • 1 lecture on 1st year undergraduate course ‘Biology and Society’

  • Will deliver several lectures on a new interdisciplinary module for the Arts and Sciences (BASc) degree on evolution and the human condition for 2nd year students.

  • UCL TV mini-lecture on the origin of complex life (15,000 views)

  • UCL lunch-hour lecture on the origin of complex life (5000 views)

Supervision of students

  • 1 PhD student in the CoMPLEX programme

  • 1 MSc research project (completed)

  • 2 MSci projects as part of the UCL OoL Initiative

  • 4 Biosciences undergraduate literature projects

  • 1 summer project plus 3 Case Projects through CoMPLEX

 

PUBLICATIONS

 

TALKS and MEDIA APPEARANCES

 

ACADEMIC LECTURES and SEMINARS

 

WIDER IMPACT OF RESEARCH / PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT

I am the first recipient of the UCL Provost’s Venture Research Prize. This unconventional prize, reported widely in the media, “offers academics the freedom to explore paradigm-shifting ideas”, being awarded to “exceptional thinkers whose ideas challenge the norm and have the potential to substantially change the way we think about an important subject.”

My research is on role of energy in the major transitions of evolution, and my publications in Nature and elsewhere have been reported widely on radio, television and online media (BBC Radio 4, BBC World Service, BBC4, BBC News, The Guardian Science Weekly, Nature podcast, US National Public Radio, etc.). My work was recently featured in the ‘Leading Edge’ section of the 2011 UCL Undergraduate Prospectus and by UCL Pi Magazine.

My books have sold more than 100,000 copies worldwide, and have been translated into 20 languages. Half the applicants to study biology or biochemistry at UCL cite my books as an inspiration. My latest book, Life Ascending, won the Royal Society Prize for Science Books in 2010, being described by the judges as “a beautifully written and elegantly structured book that challenges us with some tough science, explaining it in such a way that we feel like scientists ourselves, unfolding the mysteries of life.” The award meant that GEE is the only department in the world to house two winners of the Science Book Prize, Steve Jones having won the prize for The Language of the Genes in 1994. I was previously shortlisted for the Royal Society Science Book Prize in 2006 and The Times Higher Young Academic Author of the Year in 2005, and my books have been named among the books of the Year by Nature, New Scientist, The Economist, The Times, The Telegraph, The Sunday Times and The Independent, who described me as “one of the most exciting science writers of our age.”

I regularly contribute feature articles to Nature and New Scientist, and have spoken at various literary festivals, including the British Science Festival, London Science Festival, Edinburgh Festival, and the Hay Festival, as well as numerous schools and universities around the world. I was distinguished as the 2011 Brockington Visitor to Queen’s University, Canada.

I am acting as scientific consultant to the BBC2 Wonders of Life series (presented by Brian Cox) and have been interviewed as an expert on cells for other programmes including The Gene Code and Battle for the Cell (both on BBC4).

 

PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY EXPERIENCE

Strategic Director, Adelphi Medi Cine, 1999 – 2002. Chief medical communications strategist in global pharmaceutical marketing campaigns developing interactive multimedia health-economic programs to guide health policy on diabetes, influenza, haemophilia, HRT and infectious disease.

Senior Writer/Producer, Medi Cine International 1996 – 1999. Developing programmes in a variety of media, including, CD-ROM, DVD, video, slide, web and print; CME program through Johns Hopkins University. Won several prizes in international film festivals, including Gold and Silver awards in the Prix Leonardo, and Silver ‘Hugo’ in the Intercom Chicago International Film Festival.

Medical Writer, Oxford Clinical Communications 1995 – 1996

 

EDUCATION

PhD, Royal Free Hospital Medical School, University of London 1991 – 1995: In vivo studies of ischaemia-reperfusion injury in hypothermically stored rabbit renal autograft

BSc (Hons) Biochemistry, Imperial College, University of London 1985 – 1988.

 

PERSONAL INTERESTS

Raising two small and energetic boys (temporarily eclipsing most of the following):

Rock-climbing and mountaineering: numerous foolish exploits on rock, ice and mountain peaks across the UK, Europe and America; finding wild camp sites

Fiddle player in traditional Irish band, Probably Not, playing in London pubs and folk venues

Literature, history, cooking, wines, exploring Romanesque churches