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Our bodies are prolific artists, creating new cells throughout the body.

Some cells, like those found in skin, hair, and the lining of the gut, are produced and discarded on a regular basis, like doodles on scrap paper. Kirsty Spalding was one of the scientists who doubted that assessment.

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Once the peak number was reached—usually around age four—it was all downhill.

But by the late 1960s and early 1970s, rodent studies led some experts like Fred Gage, a neuroscientist at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, to question this notion.

To our bodies, one type of carbon is as good as any other, so C in DNA because, while other molecules are frequently refreshed throughout a cell’s life, DNA remains constant.

By determining the age of the DNA, researchers can determine when, exactly, a cell was created.

“We found stem cells in the hippocampus of adult mice and rats that could create new neurons,” Gage says.

It was groundbreaking work, but at the time not everyone was convinced of its importance.

In the years leading up to that, Spalding and Frisén pioneered a new field of research, using the Cold War bomb pulse to answer a number of questions about human physiology, including neuron formation and lipid cycling.

“It’s an amazingly powerful tool, whether you want to look at a fat cell or a brain cell,” Spalding says.

Other cells, like those in the adult brain and nervous system, have been viewed as more like the Mona Lisa. Spalding, once a postdoc at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden and now a professor there, knew there were tantalizing hints that the adult hippocampus—a seahorse-shaped region deep in the brain that is important for memory and learning—could regenerate neurons.

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