Nick Lane (London University College, Evolutionary Biochemistry)

Thursday June 27 2019 at 16h

Leiden University, Gorlaeus Laboratories, Bètawetenschappen LUMY 04.28,  Einsteinweg 55 2333 CC Leiden
Drinks after the lecture


Cells need a continuous flow of energy and matter to grow. All life on Earth uses the unanticipated mechanism of electrochemical charges across membranes to generate ATP and to fix CO2. The protein machinery required to generate and harness this charge is extremely sophisticated, raising the question of how such a universally conserved process arose in early cells. I will use the mechanism of CO2 fixation in methanogens as a guide to the possible prebiotic origins of growth and intermediary metabolism. I will show that equivalent electrochemical gradients are found across inorganic pores in alkaline hydrothermal vents, and that proton flux may have driven the difficult reaction between H2 and CO2 to form organic matter and ultimately the first cells.


Nick Lane is professor of Evolutionary Biochemistry in the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London. His research focuses on how energy flow constrains evolution from the origin of life to the traits of complex multicellular organisms. He is a co-director of the new Centre for Life’s Origins and Evolution (CLOE) at UCL, and author of four celebrated books on life’s origin and evolution (his most recent book, 2015: The Vital Question: Why is Life the Way it is? – Energy, Evolution and the Origins of Complex Life). His work has been recognized by the Biochemical Society Award in 2015 and the Royal Society Michael Faraday Prize in 2016.

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The Origins Center, in which Dutch scientists work together to answer questions submitted to the National Science Agenda about the origin of the Universe and life, had its formal kick-off during the Fundamentals of Life in de Universe symposium. Two days of challenging presentations and stimulating discussions whetted the appetite for a research program that crosses disciplines and both temporal and spatial scales on an unprecedented level.

Impressions of the symposium and kick-off

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We organize a two-day symposium “Fundamentals of Life in the Universe”, covering a wide spectrum of topics, from planetary evolution to the fabrication of synthetic cells. The topics of the meeting are:
1. The origin of the earth and of life
2. Predicting the evolution of life
3. Building and directing life from molecule to biosphere
4. Life in extraterrestrial environments
5. Emergence and bridging of temporal and spatial scales
Besides invited talks, the conference includes a keynote lecture by Ben Feringa (2016 Nobel laureate in chemistry) and a public lecture by Charley Lineweaver.
We expect 150-200 participants from the fields of chemistry, geosciences, biology, astronomy, and physics. Participants will be able to present their own research in the form of posters in a dedicated session. The program also includes opportunities for cross-disciplinary networking.

See more details on our symposium page

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On 31 August and 1 September 2017, the Energy Academy on the campus of the University of Groningen was the scene of a two-day symposium on the fundamentals of life in universe. With a number of world-class speakers this symposium fully covered the subjects in purview of the Origins Center.  In the afternoon of 31 August the start of the Origins Center was celebrated.

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In April, five 1-day workshops will be organised to introduce each of the five gamechangers:

  •   5 April 2017:  Finding extraterrestrial life
  • 11 April 2017: Bridging long temporal and spatial scales
  • 12 April 2017: Predicting evolution
  • 13 April 2017: Origin and co-evolution of earth-like planets and life
  • 21 April 2017: Building and directing life from molecule to biosphere
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