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- Reader in Evolutionary Biochemistry
- Genetics, Evolution & Environment
- Div of Biosciences
- Faculty of Life Sciences
I am an evolutionary biochemist and writer in the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London. I was awarded the inaugural Provost's Venture Research Prize for my research on evolutionary biochemistry and bioenergetics in 2009. My work focuses on the origin of life, and the origin and evolution of eukaryotes. I was a founding member of the UCL Consortium for Mitochondrial Research, and am leading the UCL Research Frontiers Origins of Life programme. I am the author of four critically acclaimed books on evolutionary biochemistry. Life Ascending won the 2010 Royal Society Prize for Science Books, while The Vital Question was praised by Bill Gates as 'an amazing inquiry into the origins of life'. My work has been recognized by the Biochemical Society Award in 2015 and the Royal Society Michael Faraday Prize in 2016.
My main interest is evolutionary biochemistry and bioenergetics, and specifically the process of chemiosmosis, through which cells generate energy in the form of ATP by way of proton gradients across membranes. Called the most counter-intuitive idea in biology since Darwin, the mechanism of chemiosmosis has been elucidated at atomic resolution, yet its evolutionary significance has received little attention.
My research focuses on three major transitions in evolution: the origin of life itself; the origin of the eukaryotic cell; and the evolution of fundamental traits shared by all eukaryotic cells, notably sex, sexes, speciation and senescence. I am exploring the hypothesis that energetics played a critical role in each transition, addressing specific questions theoretically, and by mathematical modelling, chemical and biochemical experiments.
I organize and teach the Biological Sciences second-year course 'Energy and Evolution', and contribute to several other Biosciences courses, notably 'Life on Earth' and 'Sex, Genes and Evolution'. I organize the annual Biology conference at Cumberland Lodge. I am Biological Sciences Affiliate Tutor and supervise both undergraduate and postgraduate projects.