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The Dance of Life

The Dance of Life

Symmetry, Cells and How We Become Human


'Quite simply the best book about science and life that I have ever read'
- Alice Roberts

How does life begin? What drives a newly fertilized egg to keep dividing and growing until it becomes 40 trillion cells, a greater number than stars in the galaxy? How do these cells know how to make a human, from lips to heart to toes? How does your body build itself?

Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz was pregnant at 42 when a routine genetic test came back with that dreaded word: abnormal. A quarter of sampled cells contained abnormalities and she was warned her baby had an increased risk of being miscarried or born with birth defects. Six months later she gave birth to a healthy baby boy and her research on mice embryos went on to prove that – as she had suspected – the embryo has an amazing and previously unknown ability to correct abnormal cells at an early stage of its development.

The Dance of Life will take you inside the incredible world of life just as it begins and reveal the wonder of the earliest and most profound moments in how we become human. Through Magda’s trailblazing research as a professor at Cambridge – where she has doubled the survival time of human embryos in the laboratory, and made the first artificial embryo-like structures from stem cells – you’ll discover how early life is programmed to repair and organise itself, what this means for the future of pregnancy, and how we might one day solve IVF disorders, prevent miscarriages and learn more about the dance of life as it starts to take shape.

The Dance of Life is a moving celebration of the balletic beauty of life’s beginnings.


  • One of the World's Top 10 Thinkers of 2020

About the authors

Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz

Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz moved to Cambridge 23 years ago from Poland, and is now a professor at the University of Cambridge, where she runs a laboratory and leads a team of 17 postdoctoral scientists and graduate students. She is also a Wellcome Trust Fellow and Visiting Professor at Caltech. She has published more than 120 papers, lectured all over the world and received numerous awards and honours. Her work on embryos won the people’s vote for scientific breakthrough of the year in Science magazine.
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Roger Highfield

Roger Highfield is an author, journalist, broadcaster, and Science Director at the Science Museum Group. He is a member of the Medical Research Council and Visiting Professor of Public Engagement at the University of Oxford and University College London. Prior to his work at the Science Museum Group, he was the editor of New Scientist and the science editor of the Daily Telegraph. He has written or co-authored eight popular science books, and edited J. Craig Venter’s autobiography,A Life Decoded (Allen Lane/Viking, 2007), which was shortlisted for the Royal Society’s Science Book Prize.
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