What defines who we are? Until now, the biological answer has been our genes. Leading biologist Alfonso Martinez Arias breaks with popular tradition to make a bold argument: what defines us is our cells.
Drawing on groundbreaking research, he reveals that we are composed of a thrillingly complex, constantly rearranging symphony of cells that know how to count, feel, and give form to our bodies. While DNA is important, nothing in your genes explains why your heart is on the left, why you have five fingers and not ten, why genetically identical twins have different sets of fingerprints, or why it's possible for a mother to apparently share no DNA with the children she gave birth to! At the heart of it all is a powerful new conception of the essence of life. Our identities are shaped by the interconnections between cells, working cooperatively, creating something greater than its parts – the unbroken lineage that connects us to the fertilized egg from which we developed and back through the billions of years of our planet's history, to the very first cell of all life on Earth.
A sweeping revision of both the present and the history of life, The Master Builder puts forward a new paradigm for understanding biology, transforming our approach to where we come from, what shapes us, and where we are going – as individuals, a species, and the community of life itself.
Alfonso Martinez Arias is ICREA Research Professor in the department of systems bioengineering of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. The recipient of numerous awards, he is co-author of the biology textbook Principles of Development, which was awarded the Royal Society of Biology book prize. He lives in Barcelona, Spain.
"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