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The Language of Life: How Cells Communicate in Health and Disease
Cooperation requires conversation. Human beings speak to one another. Sounds, scents, and postures allow animals to make their point. While individual cells can’t talk, hiss, growl, or bare their teeth, they nevertheless communicate regularly. Their language is based not on words or gestures, but on chemistry —using molecules where we would use words,...
Cooperation requires conversation. Human beings speak to one another. Sounds, scents, and postures allow animals to make their point. While individual cells can’t talk, hiss, growl, or bare their teeth, they nevertheless communicate regularly. Their language is based not on words or gestures, but on chemistry —using molecules where we would use words, constructing sentences from chains of proteins. The cells that make up the bodies of muticellular organisms inform, wheedle, command, exhort, reassure, nurture, criticize, and instruct each other to direct every physiological function, report every newsworthy event, record every memory, heal every wound. And each of those chemical conversations represents an opportunity for scientists and physicians. The molecular biologists who worked for over a decade to sequence the human genome have sometimes referred to that sequence as the “book of life.” To our cells, that “book” is no more than a dictionary—only living cells can converse, forming the network that allows our 60 trillion cells to function as a single organism. For nearly a century, researchers have been straining to hear the whispered conversations among cells, hoping to master the basics of their language. They know that if we can decipher and translate this cellular chatter, we have the potential for sending signals of our own that could repair wounds, reduce cholesterol, control insulin levels, or even block the reproduction of cancer cells. The possibilities are as endless as they are intriguing. The Language of Life is a fantastic story of discovery, blending the vision of science with the poetry of life itself.
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