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The Neurons That Appeared from Nowhere

The scientists crowded around Yuanchao Xue’s petri dish. They couldn’t identify the cells that they were seeing. “We saw a lot of cells with spikes growing out of the cell surface,” said Xiang-Dong Fu, the research team’s leader at the University of California, San Diego. “None of us really knew that much about neuroscience, and we asked around and someone said that these were neurons.” The team, who were made up of basic cellular and molecular scientists, were utterly puzzled. Where had these neurons come from? Xue had left a failed experiment, a dish full of human tumor cells, in the incubator, and when he looked two weeks later, he found a dish full of neurons.

It’s not often an unexpected cell type appears in a petri dish, as if from nowhere. Scientists all over the world have spent a lot of time and money actively trying to generate neurons in the

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