I’m reading Rebecca Skloot’s book about Henrietta Lacks (New Yorker review here). It is consistently fascinating but this passage about Nobel laureate Alexis Carrel struck me (possibly because my office is just across the hall from a cell culture lab.)
[Carrel] wrongly believed that light could kill cell cultures, so his laboratory looked like the photo negative of a Klu Klux Klan rally, where technicians worked in long black robes, heads covered in black hoods with small slits cut for their eyes. They sat on black stools at black tables in a shadowless room with floors, ceilings and walls painted black.
In 1912 Carrel claimed to have cultured an immortal cell line from an embryonic chicken heart. Journalists covering the discovery speculated they would ‘form a rooster big enough to cross the Atlantic in a single stride’.
Historians suspect Carrel’s claims were fraudulent and that he injected new cells into his culture.