‘The Music of the Cell’ provides tales from biology and historical past


The Music of the Cell
Siddhartha Mukherjee
Scribner, $32.50

In the summertime of 1960, docs extracted “crimson sludge” from 6-year-old Barbara Lowry’s bones and gave it to her twin.

That surgical procedure, one of many first profitable bone marrow transplants, belied the problem of the process. Within the early years of transplantation, scores of sufferers died as docs struggled to determine methods to use one individual’s cells to deal with one other. “Cell remedy for blood ailments had a terrifying delivery,” Siddhartha Mukherjee writes in his new ebook, The Music of the Cell.

The transplant story is one in all many Mukherjee makes use of to place human faces and experiences on the coronary heart of medical progress. However what radiates off the pages is the creator himself. An oncologist, researcher and Pulitzer Prize–successful creator, Mukherjee’s curiosity and knowledge add pep to what, in much less dexterous fingers, could be dry materials. He finds surprise in each aspect of cell biology, inspiration within the folks working on this area and “spine-tingling awe” of their discoveries.

It’s no shock that Mukherjee is so seduced by science. It is a man who constructed a microscope from scratch in the course of the pandemic and has spent years probing biology and its historical past with luminaries within the area. The Music of the Cell lets readers listen in on these conversations, which may be intimate and enlightening.

On a automobile trip throughout the Netherlands, Mukherjee chats with geneticist Paul Nurse, who tells him concerning the cell division work that in the end netted Nurse a Nobel Prize (SN: 3/27/21, p. 28). On a stroll at Rockefeller College in New York

Metropolis, Mukherjee discusses his melancholy with one other Nobel Prize–successful researcher, neuroscientist Paul Greengard. Mukherjee’s vivid imagery lends heft to his emotions. He tells Greengard about experiencing a “soupy fog of grief” after his father’s dying and describes “drowning in a tide of disappointment.”

In these recollections, which Mukherjee makes use of to segue into the science of melancholy, and elsewhere within the ebook, hints of poetry shimmer among the many prose. A cell noticed below a microscope is “refulgent, glimmering, alive.” A white blood cell’s sluggish creep is just like the “ectoplasmic motion of an alien.” Mukherjee weaves his experiences into the story of cell biology, guiding readers by the lives and discoveries of key figures within the area. We meet the “father of microbiology,” Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, a seventeenth century material service provider who floor globules of Venetian glass into microscope lenses and spied a “marvelous cosmos of a dwelling world” inside a raindrop. Mukherjee additionally teleports us to the current to introduce He Jiankui, the disgraced biophysicist behind the world’s first gene-edited infants (SN: 12/22/18 & 1/5/19, p. 20). Alongside the way in which, we additionally meet Frances Kelsey, the Meals and Drug Administration medical officer who refused to approve thalidomide, a drug now recognized to trigger delivery defects, to be used in america, and Lynn Margulis, the evolutionary biologist who argued that mitochondria and different organelles had been as soon as free-living micro organism (SN: 8/8/15, p. 22).

Mukherjee traverses an unlimited panorama of cell biology, and he’s not afraid to tug over and go exploring within the weeds. He describes intimately the flux of ions in nerve cells and introduces a substantial forged of immune system characters. For a fair deeper dive, readers can examine the footnotes; they’re ample.

What stands out most, although, are Mukherjee’s tales about folks: scientists, docs, sufferers and himself. As a researcher and a doctor, he steps deftly between the scientific and medical worlds, and, just like the microscope he assembled, provides a glimpse right into a universe we would not in any other case see.

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