To be able to explain how to grow a human being, one must first avoid simplistic answers and cultural preconceptions, as a first step to be taken, before introducing one’s opinion on any biomedical issue, especially if it has profound bioethical implications, such as abortion.
This is why the book ‘How to grow a human‘ should be a must read for anyone who wants to get to know this subject, especially nowadays when so much is being said about the possibilities that genetics is opening up in this field.
Philip Ball, a British physicist, chemist and populariser, offers a fascinating journey through the twists and turns of biomedicine and how we are all certainly mistaken about many postulates, and all this without even getting its hands wet, ideologically speaking.
A brain on a plate
An anecdote by the author himself serves as a starting point for this wonderful journey. In the summer of 2017, the central character in this article had a piece of his arm removed that became a rudimentary miniature brain, while he was lying on a stretcher at the Institute of Neurology at University College London (UCL).
This little piece of arm, bathed in a nutrient solution from a test tube, took eight months to look like a tiny, lentil-sized brain. It formed an amalgamation of neurons connected to each other to form a dense network that could send and receive signals in the same way as any of the millions of neurons that inhabit our brain.
While this is not yet a way to create human beings, can it ever be a way to create one?
The above, something so apparently simple and insignificant, implies that each small part of us, each cell of our body, has the potential to become the type of cell from which the whole body grows, a stem cell, that is, the original cell from which each embryo is formed.
And what would happen, if in addition to growing these organs in a plate, they could be grown inside another organism, inside an animal?
How to Grow a Human
Is this frightening? Were not children in vitro frightening at the time? What does a human being mean? What is a human being? Is a zygote just a handful of cells, or is this image a simplification of what life really is?
Many questions that, to tell the truth, remain unanswered.
We have all been told that story of “daddy putting a little seed in mommy…”, but could we explain how a fertilized egg becomes a human being? In his book, Philip Ball shows us how the latest scientific advances prevent certain congenital diseases, offer multiple options for assisted reproduction, reveal our genetic lineage… and so much more. How to create a human being is not a mere scientific discussion, but it acquires moral and social implications, and it triggers deep questions such as what does it mean to be human?
Without a doubt, the ultimate dream of man is to play at being “God” in order to create human beings “in his image and likeness“, building life from its rudiments, and leaving aside all the mistakes that nature usually incurs and that are manifested through our genetic composition.
Creating a small brain from a simple piece of meat may not represent much to many, but to science as such, it represents a very important starting point that can derive a deeper knowledge of exactly what life is, allowing human beings to prolong their life limit far beyond the natural limit to which we are so habitually accustomed.
Of all that Philip Ball has presented in his very interesting book, we will see what science has in store for us after a few years.