>Excellent piece – it’s almost poetry – from the Telegraph on the history and current state of stem cell research. I hope you will read the whole piece which discusses stem cells in light of their potential for good and bad regeneration – or healing and cancer.
The stem-cell breakthrough happened long ago. Hercules was obliged as one of his Labours to kill the Hydra, which was hard because the beast grew two heads whenever one was cut off. She gave her name to a tiny freshwater polyp – and stem cell research began. In 1744 the Geneva biologist Abraham Trembley cut a Hydra into two. To his surprise the body grew a head, and the head sprouted a body – and he persuaded some of his subjects to grow seven heads. The animal did the same of its own accord, for it copied itself by budding. Trembley’s friend, Charles Bonnet, went further. In a remarkable prediction he suggested that such creatures contained “sleeping embryos” that woke up when a part of the body was removed, to replace it. Those somnolent structures are now called stem cells.
Exactly a century ago, Hydra opened a new chapter in biology. A mashed extract of head applied to a different individual caused new heads to appear. Soluble chemicals, it seemed, control development. Repair, too, turns on messages diffusing from a source to a target cell and to the DNA itself.