Henrietta Lacks's Origin Story

What work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature has surprised, unsettled, or challenged you, and in what way?

Every superhero has an origin story, but the one I stumbled across wasn’t in any ordinary comic book or Marvel movie. It was in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

My tenth-grade biology teacher loved to squeeze in tidbits of information wherever she could, in hopes that we would finally broaden our horizons outside of the syllabus. During a biology class, she mentioned the immortal cell line of Henrietta Lacks, I scribbled down a note reminding myself to give it a look. What I didn’t realise was that I was about to delve into an endless abyss of one of the most prominent discoveries in the medical field. I found myself on the fourth page of a Google search with a book by Rebecca Skloot and a weekend to finish it. Once the weekend was over and the book was finished, you could definitely say I was surprised. The polio vaccine, research in AIDS, chemotherapy, going to space, you name it, HeLa cells did it.

If I’d been asked about cells before reading this book, I would’ve started rambling about the functions of the organelles, meiosis, and biogenesis, but reading this book challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and read something other than a generic dystopian young adult novel. Reading this book made me realize that...

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