Posted in Miscellany

*Dance of Life

This is a video of dividing cells.

Beate Neumann, Thomas Walter and a group of scientists known as the Mitocheck Consortium have made 190,000 of these films as they worked to isolate the genes responsible for mitosis. Ed Yong of Not Exactly Rocket Science has a beautiful description:

For a daily and microscopic process, mitosis is an astonishingly beautiful dance. It begins with cells creating the right number of partners, by duplicating all of their chromosomes. At first, the dancers haphazardly mingle with each other but as things get underway, they separate and line up in a neat row. Then, dramatically, they shimmy across to opposite ends of the room, following long spindles of protein. Once the partners split up, the cell pinches down its middle and separates them forevermore. Without this courtly dance, you would never have been anything more than a fertilised egg. Life simply wouldn’t work.

But there is a kicker to this story (at the link above). This research was done using…(drum roll)…Hela cells. As we know (click on the link if you don’t) these are vigorous cancer cells that came from the cervical tumour of Henrietta Lacks. The first question: do normal cells divide in the same way?

Unlike the purveyors of Hela cells, the scientists in this study have made all their research freely available. The second question: is it not a human right for everyone, including Henrietta Lacks’s descendants, to benefit from the results of that research?

There is something wrong in the world. Air and water are free to industry to use and dirty, and we have to pay the price, cleaning it up or dealing with the diseases caused thereby. Medical care is restricted to those who can pay for it. Even in many countries where there is a form of universal health care, people who have money have access to better. Free countries should do better than that. What kind of freedom doesn’t include air to breathe, water to drink, and medical care for the sick or injured?

At this time of year, when we are celebrating renewal, earth coming to life after the gestation of winter, sacrifice and redemption, the passage from slavery to freedom, we need to ask what freedom really means and to demand it.


Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

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