How to Grow a Human | Philip Ball

Summary of: How to Grow a Human: Adventures in Who We Are and How We Are Made
By: Philip Ball


Embark on a thought-provoking journey with Philip Ball as he delves into the mysteries of human existence by exploring the latest scientific advances in his book, ‘How to Grow a Human: Adventures in Who We Are and How We Are Made’. This summary will enlighten our readers about the conundrums of individuality, the complexity of human development, the significance of microbiomes, and the ethical implications of related biological advances. Unravel the layers of human development and the intricate relationship between genetics and our environment to gain a unique understanding of our identity formation.

The Essence of Individuality

Philip Ball challenges the technological advancements that raise questions regarding human existence in his thought-provoking book that compels readers to consider the sociological nature of these ethical dilemmas. Ball asserts that despite numerous researches, individuality is not predetermined by biology but rather embodied. His approach guides readers to revisit the last hundred years of scientific developments, offering a unique perspective on the current state of human-facing biotechnology. Science praised Ball’s insights as thought-provoking, while Nature warned readers to expect paradigm shifts, and Chemistry World commended his skillful guidance through the sciences’ century-long love affair with the cell.

The Complexities of Human Genetics

Humans are made up of a colony of cells, but what defines the self? While genes are critical to human development, they don’t provide a blueprint for it. Instead, genes operate in networks and at different times in the process, providing conditions for development. Continually changing gene activity and interaction create humans and explain human diversity. Although human genetic matter is 99.9% the same, there are many cells in the human body that do not genetically relate to it. The microbiome in and on the human body has an entirely different genetic makeup but is essential to human life. Despite the breakthrough of DNA, researchers don’t know how to define a gene or the complexities of human development. Ball argues that genes are not the sole determinant of human development, but rather a complex interaction of influences. Understanding the microbiome, and how it affects human life, is a critical area of research for future studies.

The Ethics of Tissue Culture and Designer Babies

In “Life’s Matrix,” author Philip Ball explores the ethical questions raised by advances in tissue culture and the growing possibility of designer babies. Ball recognizes the potential benefits of technologies such as 3D printing and embryonic stem cell research, but he also emphasizes the ethical complexities that arise from these developments. For example, while scientists have successfully printed tissue up to one centimeter thick, the ability to nourish these tissues with blood remains a challenge. Additionally, the creation of excess embryos from in vitro fertilization (IVF) raises questions about when a cluster of cells becomes a human being and what should be done with the remaining eggs. Ball also examines the implications of “editing” genes to prevent illness or promote certain traits in babies. Overall, “Life’s Matrix” shows how technological advancements pose difficult questions about what it means to be human and the ethics of manipulating life.

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