The Science of Regeneration in Doctor Who #SciFiSaturday

Someone who is not British once said that the most interesting thing about James Bond is the way the changes in the spy’s character reflect the way Britain sees itself during any given decade. It may be true for the way Britain imagines its relationship to the concurrent realpolitik, but if you want to know what Britain thinks of hope, humor, compassion, and intelligence, then you have to look to another uniquely British creation: the Doctor.

The character began as a grumpy aristocratic pedant in 1963 and then transformed into an intergalactic hobo in 1966, a dandy scientist swashbuckler in 1970, an anarchic alien bohemian in 1974, an emotionally vulnerable cricketer in 1982, an insecure, defensive genius in 1984, an avuncular cosmic machiavellian in 1987, a dashing romantic lead in 1996, a working-class war veteran in 2005, a brilliant hottie with two big beating hearts in 2006, a mad, fairy tale grampa in 2010, an alienated, world-weary Scot in 2014, and a community-seeking, socially awkward engineer in 2018. Who knows what Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor will be like in 2023?

And how does the longest running science fiction show of all time continue to reinvent itself? Regeneration. Here’s more from the Science Museum UK:

“This illustrates a fundamental principle about regeneration, which is that of pattern formation,” comments Sir Jim. “The great British developmental biologist Lewis Wolpert used to emphasise in lectures that cells on the amputated stump know their position along the axis of the limb, and know to regenerate in the right direction. Otherwise, when you cut off a newt’s limb, if regeneration went in the wrong direction, it might well regenerate a whole new newt, holding hands, as it were, with the old one.”

The recipe to build a body is held in the form of DNA in cells and scientists are beginning to uncover the genetic ingredients of regeneration. As one example, a study published recently by the Sánchez Alvarado Lab at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City  studied how genes were used, or ‘expressed’, at the single-cell level, across all of the different cell types of a regenerating animal.

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