From One Cell: A Journey into Life's Origins and the Future of Medicine (Hardcover)
Shortlisted for the 2023 Athenaeum of Philadelphia Literary Award
Inside the quest to unlock the mysteries of development—and find the key to transforming our future.
Each of us began life as a single cell. From this humble origin, we embarked on a risky journey fraught with opportunities for disaster. Yet, amazingly, we reached our destination intact, emerging as dazzlingly complex, exquisitely engineered assemblages of trillions of cells. This metamorphosis constitutes one of nature’s most spectacular yet commonplace magic tricks—and one of its most coveted secrets. In From One Cell, physician and researcher Ben Stanger offers a breathtaking glimpse into what scientists are discovering about how life and the body take shape, and how these revelations stand to revolutionize medicine and the future of human health.
In vivid prose, Stanger leads readers on a gripping odyssey retracing this universal, yet unremembered, rite of passage. Through the eyes of the scientists unraveling development’s riddles in experiments as painstaking as they are inventive, we confront fascinating puzzles: how does the plethora of different tissues that compose our bodies arise from a single source? How do cells know what they are meant to become—skin or bone, blood or muscle—when all carry the same set of genetic instructions? Once a cell starts developing down one path, can it change its mind, or is its destiny irrevocably sealed?
As Stanger shows us, the answers to these questions may at last empower us to solve some of our most persistently confounding medical challenges, from cancer to cognitive decline to degenerative disease. Recognizing tumors as evil doppelgangers of the embryo points the way toward new, more targeted cancer therapies. Learning how cells choose their identities and find their way in space could unlock lifesaving breakthroughs in regenerative medicine. The possibilities are extraordinary.
Popular science at its best, From One Cell celebrates the power and beauty of understanding our collective beginnings.
About the Author
Ben Stanger is the Hanna Wise Professor in Cancer Research and a professor of medicine and cell and developmental biology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also a practicing gastroenterologist with Penn Medicine. He lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia.
Insightful and erudite. . . . Dr. Stanger artfully guides us through key experiments that contributed to the foundations of our knowledge about embryonic development.
— Adrian Woolfson - Wall Street Journal
Remarkably effective. . . . From One Cell is replete with fascinating stories.
— Jonathan Shaw - Harvard Magazine
[A] superb debut. . . . Readers will marvel at this stimulating and comprehensive deep dive.
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
An authoritative account of a critical area of medical research and the promises it holds.
Fascinating from beginning to end, Ben Stanger’s From One Cell takes us through the most important journey in all of our lives. Stanger is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour guide through the science that will impact our lives in the future.
— Neil Shubin, paleontologist and author of Your Inner Fish
From the scientific quest to understand how a minuscule fertilized egg becomes a whole person, a universe of human biology opens up, leading to big new ideas for medicine. An inspiring, masterful, and authoritative account of this vital scientific frontier—rendered in brilliant, beautiful prose—From One Cell is about you, your beginning, and your future.
— Daniel M. Davis, author of The Beautiful Cure and The Secret Body
Showing the erudition and leaps of imagination of a writer who is deeply immersed in both scientific research and the rich history of human culture, From One Cell is a pleasure to read—elegant, accessible, and endlessly exciting.
— Robert A. Weinberg, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, author of The Biology of Cancer
One of the great mysteries in all of science is how individual fertilized eggs transform into the beautiful, exceedingly complex forms of life we see in nature and in ourselves.… In this knowledge lie seeds that will someday bear fruit in revolutionizing human health. Lucid and engrossing, From One Cell is a wondrous journey into the marvel of how life develops and the future of regenerative medicine.
— Cliff Tabin, professor and chair of genetics, Harvard Medical School
From One Cell tells the remarkable story of the discoveries that have led to our current understanding of developmental biology, cellular reprogramming, cancer, and regenerative medicine. As a developmental biologist and medical geneticist myself, I picked up the book already familiar with many of these tales, but Stanger brings them and the scientists to such vivid life that I could hardly put it down. A fascinating read.
— Tony Wynshaw-Boris, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine
From One Cell marvels in some of the highlights of the field of developmental biology, a discipline whose significance touches so many other areas in the life sciences. A gifted writer, Ben Stanger describes how we came to be from a single cell, emphasizing the incredible good fortune behind each step in this process and employing wonderful metaphors to explain complex phenomena. If you’re even the tiniest bit interested in how all cells in our body came from a single cell, I highly recommend that you read this book.
— William Anderson, Director of Education, Harvard Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology