The discovery shocked researchers in its simplicity — could a weak acid bath really be all that was required to trigger a mature blood cell to transform into powerful stem cells?
But the underlying insight that a specialized cell can easily shapeshift into something completely different is just the latest remarkable contribution to a revolution in how scientists think about the building blocks of life.
Stem cell biology is often depicted as a field offering medical promises yet to be fulfilled — the near miraculous potential to one day repair spinal cord injury or treat heart failure. Focusing on its thus-far-minuscule impact on patient care, however, misses what these scientists have already wrought: a shift in our understanding of cells so profound that it has rewritten the rules of biology in less than a generation. Full story for BostonGlobe.com subscribers.
Carolyn Y. Johnson can be reached at cjohnson @globe.com.