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Culturing Life

Culturing Life

Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Culturing Life
    Book Description:

    How did cells make the journey from their origin in living bodies to something that can be grown and manipulated on artificial media in the laboratory? This is the question at the heart of Hannah Landecker's book. She shows how cell culture changed the way we think about such central questions of the human condition as individuality, hybridity, and even immortality and asks what it means that we can remove cells from the spatial constraints of the body and "harness them to human intention."

    eISBN: 978-0-674-03990-2
    Subjects: Biological Sciences, History of Science & Technology, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
    (pp. viii-xii)
    (pp. 1-27)

    This book presents a history of tissue culture, the practice of growing living cells outside the body in the laboratory. At the same time, it tells the larger story of twentieth-century ideas and practices of plasticity and temporality of living things: Living things may be radically altered in the way they live in space and time and thus may be harnessed to human intention. This history highlights our human relationship to living matter as one structured by the concept of life as technology. Examining five central developments in the use of cultured cells over the twentieth century, I illustrate how...

    (pp. 28-67)

    In the first decade of the twentieth century, the American embryologist Ross Harrison showed that he could keep fragments of amphibian embryonic tissue alive for prolonged periods of time, even though they were separated from the body they came from and kept in small glass vessels. The fragments not only continued to live but also developed as they would have had they remained part of an embryo. Undifferentiated tissues cut from a specific region of the embryo changed shape to become nerve cells with characteristic branched filaments that looked like nerve endings, even though there was no surrounding body into...

    (pp. 68-106)

    Immortality is a concept with a heritage much longer than that of tissue culture; but in the twentieth century, the two became inextricably entwined when Alexis Carrel claimed that cultured cells could be inducted into a state of immortality using the right techniques. By describing immortality as something that could be investigated empirically using a controlled system of cells growing in a nutrient medium and a glass vessel designed by the scientist, Carrel framed the concept as a tangible object of inquiry in the field of cell biology. New scientific objects such as immortal cells do not appear out of...

    (pp. 107-139)

    Through the efforts of virologists to conquer polio in the middle of the twentieth century, living human tissue was for the first time drawn into biomedical research on a large scale. In the late 1940s, John Enders picked up tissue culture as a way of growing viruses in the laboratory; of particular interest to a very wide number of medical scientists was his use of cultured human cells to grow polio virus. Some years after his successful use of human cells for growing viruses, Enders addressed the American Association of Immunologists with characteristic understatement: “Indeed I have come to regard...

  8. 4 HELA
    (pp. 140-179)

    At the interface between medical practice and biological research in 1951, when Henrietta Lacks walked into the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, something happened that had been happening for years: Human material was used as a morphological and pathological specimen in medical research. However, this was not a fixed-and-stained, dead histological sample but instead a fragment of living tissue. It was brought to a laboratory whose central goal was to mimic the functions of the body to such a degree that human cells could be grown apart from the body and used in its place in experiments.

    The new possibilities...

    (pp. 180-218)

    The standardization and distribution of HeLa cells and tissue culture techniques in the 1950s placed the means of reproduction of somatic cells in laboratories across the world; the development of cell fusion techniques in the 1960s placed the means of recombination of those cells in the hands of scientists. Somatic cells of complex organisms have for most of the years since the rise of cell theory played second fiddle to germ cells, especially in theories about what is inherited from one generation of organisms to the next. For much of the twentieth century, counternarratives of cytoplasmic inheritance struggled in the...

    (pp. 219-236)

    What does the past elaborated in this book have to do with the cell and its milieu in the present? Anthropologists of science and technology have noted the central role of the living cell in Western biomedical and biotechnical settings. In an ethnographic account of amniocentesis in America, Rayna Rapp observes a laboratory in which extracted samples of amniotic fluid taken from pregnant women are put into Petri dishes and cultured for a week or two until the cells in those samples multiply. Once there are enough cells, they are examined microscopically for alterations in chromosome configuration that signal genetic...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 239-271)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 272-276)