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Oxygen: the Molecule that Made the World by Nick Lane

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The main aspect of the book that I found particularly interesting was that it offered a new, fresh perspective about life and death. More specifically how oxygen triggered the evolution of life and death.

The book talks about how oxygen is both a pollution, a toxin that could kill even at trace levels and how it gives life. However, we don’t think of oxygen as a poison because for us oxygen is necessary and life giving. The book states that as life evolved through chemical evolution, (when cyanobacteria used solar energy to power photosynthesis), oxygen was produced as a harmful waste product, contributing to the pollution of the air. As a result of this the poisonous gas oxidised the oceans and the rock and eventually accumulated in the earths atmosphere, causing the extinction of so many organisms who respired anaerobically. Out of the ashes rose a new world of organisms whose very existence depending on the one thing that wiped out their ancestors.

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Another aspect of the book that I found interesting was the process of ageing and how the element that is oxygen contributes to it. Every cell in our body needs oxygen to stay alive, deprived of oxygen for only a few minutes can produce irreversible damage and cell death. Ageing however is the process that occurs when oxygen causes injury to the cells so the cells aren’t dead yet they are not fully functioning.

The thoughts and theories behind faulty genes and the cause of diseases is what really caught my attention when reading Oxygen: The Molecule That Made The World. The book uncovered a curious situation where our genes are supposedly to blame as they are the cause of disease , even though nothing is actually wrong with them. They are as the book simply put it a ‘variable’. Leading figures in the pharmaceutical industry are saying that we as humans are misguided if we think there are such things as diseases for example Alzheimer’s disease. In reality it is a kaleidoscope of deceptive conditions ,like a hall of mirrors caused by unique combinations of genes.


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