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The Secret Language of Cells: What Biological Conversations Tell Us About the Brain-Body Connection, the Future of Medicine, and Life Itself

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Your cells are talking about you. Right now, both your inner and outer worlds are abuzz with chatter among living cells of every possible kind—from those in your body and brain to those in the environment around you. From electrical alerts to chemical codes, the greatest secret of modern biology, hiding in plain sight, is that all of life’s activity boils down to one t Your cells are talking about you. Right now, both your inner and outer worlds are abuzz with chatter among living cells of every possible kind—from those in your body and brain to those in the environment around you. From electrical alerts to chemical codes, the greatest secret of modern biology, hiding in plain sight, is that all of life’s activity boils down to one thing: conversation. While cells are commonly considered the building block of living things, it is actually the communication between cells that brings us to life, controlling our bodies and brains, determining whether we are healthy or sick, and directly influencing how we think, feel, and behave. In The Secret Language of Cells, doctor and neuroscientist Jon Lieff lets us listen in on these conversations, and reveals their significance for everything from mental health to cancer. He explains the surprising science of how very different cells—bacteria and brain cells, blood cells and viruses—all speak the same language. This overarching principle has been long overlooked because scientific journals use impenetrable jargon that makes it hard to be understood across disciplines, much less by the general public. Lieff presents a fascinating and accessible look into cellular communication science—a groundbreaking and comprehensive exploration of this biological phenomenon. In these pages, discover the intriguing lives of cells as they ask questions, get answers, give feedback, gather information, call for each other, and make complex decisions. During infections, immune T-cells tell brain cells that we should “feel sick” and lie down. Cancer cells warn their community about immune and microbe attacks. Gut cells talk with microbes to determine which are friends and which are enemies, and microbes talk with each other and with much more complicated human cells in ways that determine which medicines work and which will fail. With applications for immunity, chronic pain, weight loss, depression, cancer treatment, and virtually every aspect of health and biology, cellular communication is revolutionizing our understanding not just of disease, but of life itself. The Secret Language of Cells is required reading for anyone interested in following the conversation.


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Your cells are talking about you. Right now, both your inner and outer worlds are abuzz with chatter among living cells of every possible kind—from those in your body and brain to those in the environment around you. From electrical alerts to chemical codes, the greatest secret of modern biology, hiding in plain sight, is that all of life’s activity boils down to one t Your cells are talking about you. Right now, both your inner and outer worlds are abuzz with chatter among living cells of every possible kind—from those in your body and brain to those in the environment around you. From electrical alerts to chemical codes, the greatest secret of modern biology, hiding in plain sight, is that all of life’s activity boils down to one thing: conversation. While cells are commonly considered the building block of living things, it is actually the communication between cells that brings us to life, controlling our bodies and brains, determining whether we are healthy or sick, and directly influencing how we think, feel, and behave. In The Secret Language of Cells, doctor and neuroscientist Jon Lieff lets us listen in on these conversations, and reveals their significance for everything from mental health to cancer. He explains the surprising science of how very different cells—bacteria and brain cells, blood cells and viruses—all speak the same language. This overarching principle has been long overlooked because scientific journals use impenetrable jargon that makes it hard to be understood across disciplines, much less by the general public. Lieff presents a fascinating and accessible look into cellular communication science—a groundbreaking and comprehensive exploration of this biological phenomenon. In these pages, discover the intriguing lives of cells as they ask questions, get answers, give feedback, gather information, call for each other, and make complex decisions. During infections, immune T-cells tell brain cells that we should “feel sick” and lie down. Cancer cells warn their community about immune and microbe attacks. Gut cells talk with microbes to determine which are friends and which are enemies, and microbes talk with each other and with much more complicated human cells in ways that determine which medicines work and which will fail. With applications for immunity, chronic pain, weight loss, depression, cancer treatment, and virtually every aspect of health and biology, cellular communication is revolutionizing our understanding not just of disease, but of life itself. The Secret Language of Cells is required reading for anyone interested in following the conversation.

52 review for The Secret Language of Cells: What Biological Conversations Tell Us About the Brain-Body Connection, the Future of Medicine, and Life Itself

  1. 5 out of 5

    David Wineberg

    If you think medicine is full of indecipherable jargon, imagine how Dr Jon Lieff feels. His book, The Secret Language of Cells, compiles 12 years of research into how the body knows what to do. He had to find needles in haystacks – mentions of signals emanating from cells – and piece together their significance himself. The result is the first book that assembles it all – and not just human bodies, but also plants. The conversations are mind boggling. The insights are groundbreaking. You will wi If you think medicine is full of indecipherable jargon, imagine how Dr Jon Lieff feels. His book, The Secret Language of Cells, compiles 12 years of research into how the body knows what to do. He had to find needles in haystacks – mentions of signals emanating from cells – and piece together their significance himself. The result is the first book that assembles it all – and not just human bodies, but also plants. The conversations are mind boggling. The insights are groundbreaking. You will witness the birth of a new science. What Lieff describes is an entire cosmopolitan society inside the body, with cops and bad guys, plotters, conspirators, terrorists, hostage takers, street gangs, fraudsters and Trojans. But also caretakers, gardeners, neighborhood watchers, guards, builders, shippers, receivers, inspectors, rescuers, bouncers, cleaners and monitors. There is national, regional and local government. And everyone is broadcasting in their own language, all the time. The whole society is on high alert, all the time. Everyone is a town crier. Overnight garbage crews clean up the mess from the day, and it all begins again in the morning. This is life in the human body. Lieff systematically plows through the body, describing the various cells, molecules, proteins and viruses that have roles in the drama. Then he steps out way farther, because everything in the book is about how these components converse. And they do converse, ceaselessly. They warn of intruders, give directions on their location, ask for more or less help, order more or less production, and provide each other with goods and services. This is a completely different view of the body at work. It is striking, shocking, fascinating and eye-opening. It absolutely forces new ways of thinking. Just one example is the creation of neurons in the brain. For decades it was standard, unassailable knowledge that the brain stopped producing neurons at an early age, say 20, and then just deteriorated. Lieff shows that with communications, monitoring cells order the building of new neurons to replace old ones that are worn and inefficient. The result is a clutch of fresh neurons that have been trained to assume the memories of the old ones, and even upgraded to accept more detail because they have been used and useful for so long. It’s respect and reward for seniority. This, Lieff says, is part of why the elderly can recite every little aspect of an event 70 years ago, but cannot remember what they had for lunch today. If that doesn’t change the way medicine looks at gerontology and neuropsychiatry, nothing will. The book is full of such revelations. Cancers get a thorough look, and so do viruses, including the COVID-19 virus. Cancers, like viruses, use subterfuge to get past the guards and establish themselves. Cancers co-opt cells meant to kill them, turning them into zombies doing their bidding. They force the good cells to help them build and spread cancer. One of the ways they do it is by communicating as if they were the good guys, fooling the T cells. Once established they can fool other cells into providing transport or bloodlfow to build themselves up. Viruses are possibly even more remarkable, because there is basically nothing to them. A seven gene virus like Ebola earns Lieff’s respect. Just one of its handful of proteins can do five different jobs damaging other cells, redirecting others, using the internal transport system to travel throughout the body undetected, preventing cells from attaching tags to it, and basically taking over completely. How one protein can accomplish five so very different tasks is as amazing to Lieff as it is to us. Leprosy is unique in that it can turn cells back into stem cells that it can reprogram to do its damage. This is a holy grail of medicine, and after 3000 years of leprosy, we still don’t know how the virus does it. Viruses have been around so long that 8% of human DNA comes from viruses implanted there, Lieff says. The body is filled with communication channels. Nanotubes allow cells to bypass local traffic and get where they’re supposed to be. Fluids like the cerebrospinal fluid connect the critical functions of the nerves in the spine with critical neurons across the brain with a superhighway of conductive fluid. Neurons in the brain can have has many as 100,000 connections – synapses - giving the brain a good ten thousand trillion possible connections, all of which are constantly reporting status and making decisions. There are more than a thousand kinds of neurons and astrocytes, showing specialization that medicine knows next to nothing about. Microglia, the only brain cells not physically connected, patrol and regulate. They determine things like the emotional response to pain. They signal differently according to diseases they encounter or experience or hear about. inflammation can turn them into aggressive immune cells, as everything that can, pitches in to the fight. There three types of glial cells (“glue” that sticks to other cells): astrocytes, the most common, microglia and myelin, which coats pathways and tubes. The quality and patterns laid down by myelin determine the connection and the speed of the pathway. It provides entries and exits to passing cells. It’s not just insulation as we have assumed for 200 years. What has not been discovered is the central authority that prioritizes action. Every region seems to be responsible for itself. It reports, but doesn’t seem to take much in the way of orders from the brain. The brain’s main functions appear to lie in external ops like movement, the senses and the mind. The nuts and bolts of existence is apparently a local and regional affair. Organs are built out by the cells themselves communicating. New cells move into place knowing where the edge must end up being, for example. They find out from the very cells they climb over to get to where they need to be. Cells needed for an emergency repair or to fend off an invasion can even travel upstream, clinging to the wall of an artery and swinging their way forward through the oncoming blood. The myelin lining allows them to exit where they need to. Astrocytes in the brain walk along arteries and squeeze them with their feet pads when fresh blood is needed, and also hold them back to prevent the wrong kind of residents from crossing the blood-brain barrier. Cells slap tags on other cells so they can be identified later. Killer T cells can clear out an invader and then order up a new memory/monitor cell at the location to instantly report any recurrence going forward. T cells can edit their own DNA, disguising themselves from invaders they recognize. Cells create nets to float over invaders and trap them. Mitochondria dock at another organelle in the cell, endoplasmic reticulum, to converse and determine where they have to deliver energy, pickup supplies, or even shut down. Cells present pieces of microbes to T cells so the T cells can recognize them later and elsewhere. Everything has a supervisor and everything holds nothing back. Knowledge is power and power comes from constant communication. Microbes are a constant threat. They can hide in cells, hijack cells, and jump into information sacs that certain cells use to report their status, and get a free ride to some other region, safely hidden from inspectors. But with microbes there is another issue. Some are allies. They produce vitamins and minerals out of food, carry out some critical process, or aid in healing. There are cancer meds that will not work unless the body has certain microbes producing certain compounds. Probiotics will play a larger and larger role going forward, Lieff says. Somehow, the body is able to discern the good ones from the bad ones, but we don’t seem to know how. Are good microbes acting with permission? Or do they sneak by the body’s defenses like other foreign bodies try to. How does the body know not to attack these microbes like it does to other foreign bodies? But then, microbes can switch sides too. What starts out as useful can suddenly damage DNA or, inhibit repairs. It can aid cancer by preventing cell death or allow cells to grow without oxygen. Lieff says a good recipe for cancer is inflammation, obesity, and microbes which can be altered by fat to aid cancer. At the end of the day (literally), neurons physically retreat – shrink back – allowing the body’s equivalent of street sweepers to clean up the mess – the dead and damaged, the misfolded proteins, the shreds and shards and the half eaten from the cerebrospinal fluid pathways. This critical role of sleep is part of the link between Alzheimer’s and lack of sleep, where amyloid plaques clutter up the brain. The human body is not alone in harboring a cacophony of communication. Lieff says plants are just as chatty. They communicate with each other using aerial chemical releases and along fungal filaments. Internally, the signals come from water pressure and chemical and electrical signals. Plants invite beneficial microbes to help fix nitrogen, while attacking microbes that are parasitic. They can even grow tumors to physically push insect eggs off its leaves. Trees signal carbon-eating bacteria through their roots. Root hairs curl up as an inviting entryway into the tree. It also prepares a space inside, protected by a membrane where it wants the bacteria to set up shop. And lights up the path to the new space for the bacteria to follow. The bacteria settle in for decades, a win-win co-operation. The same process applies to fungi, which also connect different plants together with filaments that can spread for miles. These filaments allow plants to communicate both internally and externally throughout a forest. Lieff has performed a remarkable service with this book. He puts in plain everyday language the horrific jargon, ten dollar words and abstruse mathematical formulas that modern medicine has become. He is totally focused on the communications. And his chapters are totally focused and tight. Readers will never get tired of one subject going on too long. The result is not just easy to read, but draws a compelling picture of an entire society within the human body as well as in plants. Numerous times he stops to say things like but we don’t know why, or it is difficult to understand or we’ve barely begun to do the research on this relationship or ability. Because this book is the first of its kind. Lieff has basically started a whole new discipline he calls sociovirology. It raises a lot of questions, but it also opens huge new horizons and perspectives that medicine has not even considered in its hellbent reductionist plunge for a quick fix. Nothing works that way, and The Secret Language of Cells proves it. David Wineberg for the images that go with this review, see https://medium.com/the-straight-dope/...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    This was such a fascinating and entertaining read! It honestly wasn't what I was expecting at all, but that wasn't a bad thing. I am obsessed with biology and figured this book would be right up my alley and it was! This takes you on a trip inside the human body on a cellular level to discover the functions throughout. While I already find science to be intriguing, I think this book would also be fun for anyone taking a biology class as it really brings the subject to life and would with reinfor This was such a fascinating and entertaining read! It honestly wasn't what I was expecting at all, but that wasn't a bad thing. I am obsessed with biology and figured this book would be right up my alley and it was! This takes you on a trip inside the human body on a cellular level to discover the functions throughout. While I already find science to be intriguing, I think this book would also be fun for anyone taking a biology class as it really brings the subject to life and would with reinforcing various concepts and ideas. Very fun must-read for science buffs!

  3. 4 out of 5

    bup

    Prepare yourself for a deep dive. 29 deep dives, in fact. The cells in your body talk to each other, to bacteria, to viruses, and within a cell, organelles talk to each other, via every avenue you can imagine. Lieff made his book with the very latest information, with most sections marking off just where science is, and what are the next mysteries in each section. The newest edition even covers Covid-19. If you want a really good grounding in all cellular communication, this provides a great start Prepare yourself for a deep dive. 29 deep dives, in fact. The cells in your body talk to each other, to bacteria, to viruses, and within a cell, organelles talk to each other, via every avenue you can imagine. Lieff made his book with the very latest information, with most sections marking off just where science is, and what are the next mysteries in each section. The newest edition even covers Covid-19. If you want a really good grounding in all cellular communication, this provides a great start. The appendix even points to the next resources for each chapter, organized by what publications make for the best survey material and which are more niche, but right on the frontiers of what's being studied today.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Denise Nayve

    I decided to try this book out since Biology was by far my favorite back in High School. For a non-med student or practitioner, this book was fairly easy to understand if you have at least remembered your Biology classes. I was surprised to like it and I really didn't get lost in all the explanation. It's a welcome change for me to have read this. I decided to try this book out since Biology was by far my favorite back in High School. For a non-med student or practitioner, this book was fairly easy to understand if you have at least remembered your Biology classes. I was surprised to like it and I really didn't get lost in all the explanation. It's a welcome change for me to have read this.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Filipe

    If you have absolutely no clue about any of the topics covered in this book, then it’s likely that reading it will not be very helpful besides painting a very blurry picture that science is hard and we don’t know all that much, but a lot of things are happening. On the other hand, if you do know a little about the topics broached in this book, the best you can take out of it is an en passant mention of some interaction you weren’t previously aware and will have to learn mora about elsewhere as de If you have absolutely no clue about any of the topics covered in this book, then it’s likely that reading it will not be very helpful besides painting a very blurry picture that science is hard and we don’t know all that much, but a lot of things are happening. On the other hand, if you do know a little about the topics broached in this book, the best you can take out of it is an en passant mention of some interaction you weren’t previously aware and will have to learn mora about elsewhere as details are sorely amiss. In any case this book offers very little knowledge and often ignores some opportunities for the author to review his basic cell biology before speaking. As an example, we do know fairly well how cell membranes manage to not have holes despite continuous budding vesicles. Sure we don’t have a full description of the biochemical pathways of the proteins that help vesicles bud off and merge with the membranes, but we do know why it doesn’t leave holes and that’s because it’s thermodynamically unfavourable to do so. Anyhow, I didn’t finish the book, I just couldn’t force myself to read a rambling that never really offered substantial knowledge.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Adnan Khaleel

    I really wanted to like this book. It’s a fascinating subject that almost all of us have thought about especially when we aren’t well. Unfortunately, to make the content more accessible, the author doesn’t really go into any detail of the language and prefers to just use the word “signal” to gloss over the specifics. I really wanted to know what that signal is, what mechanisms do the signals use to inhibit or promote or signify other activity, the biochemistry etc. Even when the author does delv I really wanted to like this book. It’s a fascinating subject that almost all of us have thought about especially when we aren’t well. Unfortunately, to make the content more accessible, the author doesn’t really go into any detail of the language and prefers to just use the word “signal” to gloss over the specifics. I really wanted to know what that signal is, what mechanisms do the signals use to inhibit or promote or signify other activity, the biochemistry etc. Even when the author does delve into the specifics, it’s at a very high level. I think this book could have been so much better but it seems like the author is more interested in wowing the reader that all of this communication happens at a cellular level, and ironically does little to further the readers comprehension of the complex mechanisms.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Interesting but too much is introduced I was somewhat disappointed by this book. Although the writing is conversational and in plain English, I felt that too much is introduced and not enough detail is given to really get a good sense of how communication between cells takes place. On the other hand, the photomicrographs are outstanding. To be upfront, I do have a biology background, but I have read many popular science biology books that have held my attention throughout. A good recent example Interesting but too much is introduced I was somewhat disappointed by this book. Although the writing is conversational and in plain English, I felt that too much is introduced and not enough detail is given to really get a good sense of how communication between cells takes place. On the other hand, the photomicrographs are outstanding. To be upfront, I do have a biology background, but I have read many popular science biology books that have held my attention throughout. A good recent example is Deadliest Enemy by Osterholm and Olshaker. Disclosure: I received an advance reader copy via Netgalley for review purposes.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Cobb Sabatini

    I won a copy of The Secret Language of Cells by Jon Lieff, MD, from Goodreads. The Secret Language of Cells by Jon Lieff, MD, may be written on a level for medical students, but, though dense, it is written in such a way that the average reader can read it with clear understanding and also come away thoroughly informed. This book is a hybrid medical textbook and step-by-step guide for non-medical readers that offers insight on how human cells function, communicate, and ultimately die. A fascinati I won a copy of The Secret Language of Cells by Jon Lieff, MD, from Goodreads. The Secret Language of Cells by Jon Lieff, MD, may be written on a level for medical students, but, though dense, it is written in such a way that the average reader can read it with clear understanding and also come away thoroughly informed. This book is a hybrid medical textbook and step-by-step guide for non-medical readers that offers insight on how human cells function, communicate, and ultimately die. A fascinating and erudite study, The Language of Cells enlightens, educates, and prepares readers for a microbe-filled world.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for an honest review. I have not completed the book. I feel overdue, however, in submitting my review. This is not a book I would read straight through and I expect it will take awhile to complete it. So far, I find it a fascinating look at how cells work together, albeit sometimes not so well. The author states several times there are many things left to learn. I look forward to reading more of this book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    This is quite interesting. No scientific knowledge required. Don't read this if you're seeking solutions to a cell-related health issue. But do read this if you're interested in learning more about the human body. It's very well written and includes some great photos. I really appreciate the ARC for review!! This is quite interesting. No scientific knowledge required. Don't read this if you're seeking solutions to a cell-related health issue. But do read this if you're interested in learning more about the human body. It's very well written and includes some great photos. I really appreciate the ARC for review!!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Nazia Ahmed

    I'm currently doing my PhD in the field of Genomics. Hence why I decided to read this book. Found it rather interesting and enjoyed the way the author was able to describe science in layman's terms, Would recommend this book to others in my department, I'm currently doing my PhD in the field of Genomics. Hence why I decided to read this book. Found it rather interesting and enjoyed the way the author was able to describe science in layman's terms, Would recommend this book to others in my department,

  12. 4 out of 5

    Francesco

    Una lettura veramente interessante, tantissimi (forse troppi) concetti. Un po' troppo denso, ma come saggio riassuntivo per gli addetti ai lavori è una lettura a mio parere imprescindibile perché apre infiniti nuovi filoni di indagine per nuove metodologie di terapia. Una lettura veramente interessante, tantissimi (forse troppi) concetti. Un po' troppo denso, ma come saggio riassuntivo per gli addetti ai lavori è una lettura a mio parere imprescindibile perché apre infiniti nuovi filoni di indagine per nuove metodologie di terapia.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

  14. 4 out of 5

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  15. 4 out of 5

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  16. 5 out of 5

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  17. 5 out of 5

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  18. 4 out of 5

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  19. 5 out of 5

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  20. 4 out of 5

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  21. 5 out of 5

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  22. 5 out of 5

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  23. 4 out of 5

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