Writing a book sometimes feels like a lonely journey into the infinite, but that is not for lack of support, at least not in my case. I am privileged to have received the help of numerous people, from academic specialists, whom I contacted out of the blue by email, to friends and family, who read chapters, or indeed the whole book, or helped sustain sanity at critical moments.

A number of specialists have read various chapters of the book and provided detailed comments and suggested revisions. Three in particular have read large parts of the manuscript, and their enthusiastic responses have kept me going through the more difficult times. Bill Martin, Professor of Botany at the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, has had some extraordinary insights into evolution that are matched only by his abounding enthusiasm. Talking with Bill is the scientific equivalent of being hit by a bus. I can only hope that I have done his ideas some justice. Frank Harold, emeritus Professor of Microbiology at Colorado State University, is a veteran of the Ox Phos wars. He was one of the first to grasp the full meaning and implications of Peter Mitchell's chemi-osmotic hypothesis, and his own experimental and (beautifully) written contributions are well known in the field. I know of nobody who can match his insight into the spatial organization of the cell, and the limits of an overly genetic approach to biology. Last but not least, I want to thank John Hancock, Reader in Molecular Biology at the University of the West of England. John has a wonderfully wide-ranging, eclectic knowledge of biology, and his comments often took me by surprise. They made me rethink the workability of some of the ideas I put forward, and having done so to his satisfaction (I think) I am now more confident that mitochondria really do hold within them the meaning of life.

Other specialists have read chapters relating to their own field of expertise, and it is a pleasure to record my thanks. When ranging so widely over different fields, it is hard to be sure about one's grasp of significant detail, and without their generous response to my emails, nagging doubts would still beset me. As it is, I am hopeful that the looming questions reflect not just my own ignorance, but also that of whole fields, for they are the questions that drive a scientist's curiosity. In this regard, I want to thank: John Allen, Professor of Biochemistry, Queen Mary College, University of London; Gustavo Barja, Professor of Animal Physiology, Complutense University, Madrid; Albert Bennett, Professor of Evolutionary Physiology at the University of California, Irvine; Dr Neil Blackstone, Associate Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Northern Illinois University; Dr Martin Brand, MRC Dunn Human Nutrition Unit, Cambridge;

Dr Jim Cummins, Associate Professor of Anatomy, Murdoch University; Chris Leaver, Professor of Plant Sciences, Oxford University; Gottfried Schatz, Professor of Biochemistry, University of Basel; Aloysius Tielens, Professor of Biochemistry, University of Utrecht; Dr Jon Turney, Science Communication Group, Imperial College, London; Dr Tibor Vellai, Institute of Zoology, Fribourg University; and Alan Wright, Professor of Genetics, MRC Human Genetics Unit, Edinburgh University.

I am very grateful to Dr Michael Rodgers, formerly of OUP, who commissioned this book as one of his final acts before retiring. I am honoured that he retained an active interest in progress, and he cast his eagle eye over the first-draft manuscript, providing extremely helpful critical comments. The book is much improved as a result. In the same breath I must thank Latha Menon, Senior Commissioning Editor at OUP, who inherited the book from Michael, and invested it with her legendary enthusiasm and appreciation of detail as well as the larger picture. Many thanks too to Dr Mark Ridley at Oxford, author of Mendel's Demon, who read the entire manuscript and provided invaluable comments. I can't think of anyone better able to evaluate so many disparate aspects of evolutionary biology, with such a generous mind. I'm proud he found it a stimulating read.

A number of friends and family members have also read chapters and given me a good indication of what the general reader is prepared to tolerate. I want to thank in particular Allyson Jones, whose unfeigned enthusiasm and helpful comments have periodically sent my spirits soaring; Mike Carter, who has been friend enough to tell me frankly that some early drafts were too difficult (and that later ones were much better); Paul Asbury, who is full of thoughts and absorbing conversation, especially in wild corners of the country where talk is unconstrained; Ian Ambrose, always willing to listen and advise, especially over a pint; Dr John Emsley, full of guidance and inspiration; Professor Barry Fuller, best of colleagues, always ready to talk over ideas in the lab, the pub, or even the squash court; and my father, Tom Lane, who has read most of the book and been generous in his praise and gentle in pointing out my stylistic infelicities, while working to tight deadlines on his own books. My mother Jean and brother Max have been unstinting in their support, as indeed have my Spanish family, and I thank them all.

The frontispiece illustrations are by Dr Ina Schuppe Koistenen, a researcher in biomedical sciences in Stockholm and noted watercolorist, who is making a name in scientific art. The series was specially commissioned for this book, and inspired by the themes of the chapters. I'm very grateful to her, as I think they bring to life the mystery of our microscopic universe, and give the book a unique flavour.

Special thanks to Ana, my wife, who has lived this book with me, through times best described as testing. She has been my constant sparring companion, bouncing ideas back and forth, contributing more than a few, and reading every word, well, more than once. She has been the ultimate arbiter of style, ideas, and meaning. My debt to her is beyond words.

Finally, a note to Eneko: he is antithetical to writing books, preferring to eat them, but is a bundle of joy, and an education in himself.

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