A Venture into cellular biology

University College London has awarded its first Venture Research Prize, in an initiative to promote radical new ideas free of the constraints of the conventional peer review process.

The winner, biochemist Nick Lane, was chosen by UCL provost Malcolm Grant, from 30 proposals in a process that had no deadlines or peer review and few rules.

Lane will receive £150,000 to free himself from all other duties for three years, to investigate the origins of  complex, multicellular “eukaryotic” life on Earth.

His proposal is broad in its sweep but elegantly written – as befits someone who is a popular science writer as well as an academic. (His latest book, Life Ascending: the 10 Great Inventions of Evolution, has just come out.)

At the project’s heart is chemiosmosis, the process by which cells generate energy. This is driven by mitochondria, tiny organelles that retain their own genes separately from the main genome in the cellular nucleus.

Lane says eukaryotic life (all plants, animals, fungi and other organisms whose cells have nuclei) arose just once on Earth, from the symbiotic union of bacteria to form a single cell.

Venture Research looks for projects that are open-ended, without obvious, immediate applications. Lane says his work could have repercussions in any field where interactions between cellular nucleus and mitochondria might play a driving role, from research into ageing to cloning.

Congratulations to him, Malcolm Grant and above all Don Braben, the long-term proponent of Venture Research who pioneered the award. The world of science and technology needs more like it.

The world of research

The science blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

Clive Cookson, the FT's science editor, picks out the research that everyone should know about, in fields from astronomy to zoology. He also discusses key policy issues, from R&D funding to science education. He'll cover the weird and wonderful, as well as the serious side of science.

The FT’s Science blog: a guide

Comment: To comment, please register with FT.com, which you can do for free here. Please also read our comments policy here.
Contact: You can write to Clive using this email format: firstname.surname@ft.com
Time: UK time is shown on posts.
Follow: Links to the blog's Twitter and RSS feeds are at the top of the page. You can also read the Science blog on your mobile device, by going to www.ft.com/scienceblog

Full list of FT blogs

Featured blogs

Health blog

Dr Margaret McCartney and others discuss the future of healthcare

Tech blog

Dispatches from the FT's San Francisco experts