Rita Levi Montalcini

October 5th: Chicken

DSC07017

Memories. Thoughts. The precious skills required to make a delicious frittata. All stored and processed in the brain. An intricate net of nerves growing around and interconnecting of which we know a lot and yet still too little.

What regulates nerves growth was only discovered in the 1950s when Rita Levi Montalcini identified the Nerve Growth Factor, the protein complex that regulates the growth and survival of neuron cells. For the study, she used a chicken. A chicken embryo to be precise. She cracked an egg opened, implanted a piece of a mice tumour in the chicken embryo and waited. Around the tumor, nerves started growing not only from the tumor cells but also in the chicken cells all around. The tumor was releasing a substance that would stimulate the growth of nerves – the nerve growth factor!

I hope you add this story to the memories you can recall the next time you will prepare your breakfast.


Talking of memories, the very first science divulgation book I have ever read was “Abbi il coraggio di conoscere” by Rita Levi Montalcini. The title is the Italian translation of Kant’s Sapere Aude, “Dare to be wise”, and the whole book is an ode to knowledge and to push oneself over their boundaries and self-imposed limitations. I would lie if I’d say this reading did not help to shape who I am.


If you are wondering what’s going on here, look at this post: Inking Science