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The Master Builder

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Audiobook Downloadable / ISBN-13: 9781399809962

Price: £24.99

ON SALE: 17th August 2023

Genre: Mathematics & Science

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A leading developmental biologist argues that cells, not DNA, hold the key to understanding history, present, and future of life.

What defines who we are?

For decades, the biological answer has been our genes. In The Master Builder, leading biologist Alfonso Martinez Arias breaks with decades of scientific and popular tradition to make a bold argument: what defines us is our cells. Drawing on new research from his lab and others, Martinez Arias reveals that we are composed of a thrillingly complex, constantly rearranging symphony of cells that know how to count, feel, and ultimately give form to our bodies. While DNA is important, Richard Dawkins’s vision of the selfish gene that controls everything is not a good description of how biology actually works. As Martinez Arias shows, nothing in your genes explains why your heart is on the left side of your body, why you have five fingers and not ten, or why genetically identical twins have different sets of fingerprints and why it’s possible for a mother to apparently share no DNA with the children to whom she gave birth! At the heart of it all is not simply gee-whiz science, but a powerful new conception of the essence of life.

Our identities are shaped not simply by our genes, but by the interconnections between all our cells, working as a sort of symphony-cooperative, and creating something greater than its parts could on their own-and the unbroken lineage of cells that connects us to the first fertilized egg from which we developed-and in turn, back through the billions of years of our planet’s history, to the very first cell in the history of all life on Earth.

A sweeping revision of both the present and history of life, The Master Builder puts forward a new paradigm for understanding biology, one rooted in cellular cooperation, not selfish genes. Engaging and ambitious, it will transform our understanding of where we come from, what shapes us, and where we are going, as individuals, a species, and the community of life itself.

(P)2023 Hodder & Stoughton Limited


A timely, important and compelling case for why an understanding of living organisms must start with the cell. He offers a vision of life that shows it to be much more interesting and ingenious than any simplistic notion of genetic blueprints can provide
Philip Ball, author of CRITICAL MASS and THE BOOK OF MINDS
This book makes a new and stunning argument, not so much that we should put DNA in its place, but that we can see the grandeur of life as it truly is
Azra Raza, author of THE FIRST CELL
An ingenious argument . . . A rich, detailed exploration of the vitality of cells
Kirkus Reviews
Alfonso Martinez Arias's novel thesis invigorates, and the lucid scientific discussions will hold readers' attention even through involved examinations of how cells respond to specific proteins. This is the perfect complement to Siddhartha Mukherjee's The Song of the Cell
Publishers Weekly, starred review
What came first, the chicken or the egg? In The Master Builder, Alfonso Martinez Arias poses a different question: what drives biology, genes or cells? His surprising answer shines new light on the fascinating riddle of development and offers a majestic cells-eye view of life itself
In this masterful account, geneticist and developmental biologist Alfonso Martinez Arias shows that, on its own, DNA is powerless, inert . . . This cell's-eye view of life is powerful and striking, helping to reveal why DNA is not the ultimate determinant of ourselves . . . This clearly explained, beautiful book will change how you think about DNA, about how you came to be, and about life itself
Matthew Cobb, author of AS GODS
[A] revolutionary book on cell biology
Provocative . . . timely and needed. Highlights of the book include the many fascinating historical and evolutionary perspectives presented and Martinez Arias's discussion of key experiments
Science Magazine
Fascinating and provocative
El Pais