Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World

Nick Lane

Published by Oxford University Press, 2003
ISBN 10: 0198508034 / ISBN 13: 9780198508038
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Synopsis: Oxygen has had extraordinary effects on life. Three hundred million years ago, in Carboniferous times, dragonflies grew as big as seagulls, with wingspans of nearly a metre. Researchers claim they could have flown only if the air had contained more oxygen than today - probably as much as 35 per cent. Giant spiders, tree-ferns, marine rock formations and fossil charcoals all tell the same story. High oxygen levels may also explain the global firestorm that contributed to the demise of the dinosaurs after the asteroid impact. The strange and profound effects that oxygen has had on the evolution of life pose a riddle, which this book sets out to answer. Oxygen is a toxic gas. Divers breathing pure oxygen at depth suffer from convulsions and lung injury. Fruit flies raised at twice normal atmospheric levels of oxygen live half as long as their siblings. Reactive forms of oxygen, known as free radicals, are thought to cause ageing in people. Yet if atmospheric oxygen reached 35 per cent in the Carboniferous, why did it promote exuberant growth, instead of rapid ageing and death? Oxygen takes the reader on an enthralling journey, as gripping as a thriller, as it unravels the unexpected ways in which oxygen spurred the evolution of life and death. The book explains far more than the size of ancient insects: it 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 ageing 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.

Review: "...Nick Lane marshals an impressive array of evidence - [an] ambitious narrative [...]This is science writing at its best" -- Jerome Burne The Financial Times

A glorious book that tells of dragonflies as big as seagulls, the magic of photosynthesis...and why we get old. Do NOT miss this book! -- David Freeman, Relaxwithabook.com, August 2002

A truly unique book which takes the reader into unknown territory... might well become the talking point of 2003. -- John Emsley, Chemistry at Cambridge, Autumn 2002

A wonderful book... a scientific saga as compelling as any creation myth and Lane tells it with appropriate zeal -- Tim Lenton, Times Higher Educational Supplement

An extraordinary orchestration of disparate scientific disciplines, connecting the origins of life on earth with disease, age and death in human beings. -- Sunday Times (John Cornwell)

Highly ambitious... a piece of radical scientific polemic, nothing less than a total rethink of how life evolved... science writing at its best. -- Jerome Burne, Financial Times 16 November 2002

Lane overturns theories about how our planet came to have an atmosphere that was 21% oxygen... -- The Times, October 5, 2002

Lane's learning and historical scope enable vivid descriptions of the role oxygen has played in determining the course of evolution -- Times Literary Supplement (Michael Peel)

Oxygen is the story of life on Earth.... Lane’s chapters are dispatches from the frontiers of research into Earth and life history.... -- The Guardian (Tim Radford)

[Oxygen's] history has never been told as well as Lane tells it here... one of the better books to appear this year. -- David Payne, Focus Magazine, November 2002

an entertaining and cogent account of how oxidative stress fits in to our rapidly expanding knowledge about ageing... deserves to be widely read -- Nature (Tom Kirkwood)

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Title: Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication Date: 2003
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Used: Good

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