Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life

By Nick Lane | Go to book overview

PART 5
Murder or Suicide
The Troubled Birth of the Individual

Death by apoptosis—mitochondria
determine whether a cell lives or dies by
enforced suicide

When cells in the body become worn out or damaged, they die by enforced suicide, or apoptosis. The cell blebs, is packaged up, and reabsorbed. If the mechanisms controlling apoptosis fail, the result is cancer, a conflict of interest between cells and the body as a whole. Apoptosis seems to be necessary for the integrity and cohesion of multicellular individuals, but how did once-independent cells come to accept death for the greater good? Today apoptosis is policed by mitochondria, and the machinery of death was inherited from their bacterial ancestors, suggesting a history of murder. So was the cohesion of the individual forged in deadly conflict?

-189-

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