A lively exploration of the surprising role that electricity plays in our bodies.
What happens during a heart attack? Can someone really die of fright? What is death, anyway? How does electroshock treatment affect the brain? What is consciousness? The answers to these questions lie in the electrical signals constantly traveling through our bodies, driving our thoughts, our movements, and even the beating of our hearts.
The history of how scientists discovered the role of electricity in the human body is a colorful one, filled with extraordinary personalities, fierce debates, and brilliant experiments. Moreover, present-day research on electricity and ion channels has created one of the most exciting fields in science, shedding light on conditions ranging from diabetes and allergies to cystic fibrosis, migraines, and male infertility. With inimitable wit and a clear, fresh voice, award-winning researcher Frances Ashcroft weaves together compelling real-life stories with the latest scientific findings, giving us a spectacular account of the body electric.
About Frances Ashcroft
Frances Ashcroft is a professor of physiology at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of the Royal Society. The author of the international bestseller Life at the Extremes, she lives in Oxford.
In every organism on earth, electrical activity is regulated by proteins called ion channels. Ashcroft (Physiology/Univ. of Oxford; Life at the Extremes: The Science of Survival, 2000, etc.) argues that ion channels “are truly the ‘spark of life’ for they govern every aspect of our behavior.” The author’s research led to innovative new treatments when she discovered that ion channel mutations can cause diabetes. Everything from inception (ion channels play a role in successful egg fertilization) to death (which is a cessation of electrical pulses between nerve cells) is affected by animal electricity, including all five senses. Thinking and dreaming, too, are powered by electric nerve impulses, suggesting intriguing connections between human emotions and memories and their underlying electrochemical processes. Ashcroft explores all of this with clarity and enthusiasm, citing ample research-based evidence to give readers an understanding of cutting-edge scientific research while also incorporating the vibrant history of the discovery of animal electricity. Informative and relatable real-life anecdotes tie many of these scientific concepts together and provide tantalizing hints of what new applications of electricity may be on the horizon. Brain-powered Internet, electric sight and even mind-reading may be possible. – Kirkus Reviews
British Scientist Driven To Find ‘Spark Of Life’
NPR Book Review – September 27, 2012 (Excerpt)
One night in 1984, British scientist Frances Ashcroft was studying electricity in the body and discovered the protein that causes neonatal diabetes. She says she felt so “over the moon” that she couldn’t sleep.
By the next morning, she says, she thought it was a mistake.
But luckily, that feeling was wrong, and Ashcroft’s revelation led to a medical breakthrough decades later, which now enables people born with diabetes to take pills instead of injecting insulin.
“I don’t think people realize the excitement of being a true discoverer,” Ashcroft tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “There are no new places to discover on this Earth, but there are many, many new ideas to discover — new things to find out about the way the world works.”
Ashcroft says she grew up wanting to be a farmer’s wife but later became fascinated with studying electrical impulses in the body. Her new book The Spark of Life details how electricity drives everything we think, feel or do through ion channels that are found in the membranes of each of our cells. [Read the full article...]
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