Here's how much it would cost to build your very own Benedict Cumberbatch
Bill Bryson looks at the surprising facts and mysteries of the human body in new book
This story was originally published in November 2019.
Let's just say that, for whatever reason, you wanted to build your very own live version of Benedict Cumberbatch, from all the chemical elements that make up the British heartthrob.
It would cost you precisely $151,578.46 US ($198,166.10 Cdn) — excluding labour, according to author Bill Bryson.
That's just one of the surprising facts about our physical selves that Bryson gathered for his latest book, The Body: A Guide for Occupants.
"Every human being has 59 atomic elements that comprise us," he told The Current's interim host Laura Lynch.
The Royal Society of Chemistry, he explained, calculated how much it would cost if you went to a store and bought the precise amount of each of those elements needed to create a living replica of the Sherlock actor.
It was a hypothetical exercise for the 2013 Cambridge Science Festival, where Cumberbatch was the guest director. The Society used him as a template of an average-sized man.
The total cost of a human body has weighed on Bryson's mind since he was in junior high in Iowa, when a biology teacher told him that "all the components of a human being could be bought in a hardware store for like eight dollars or 12 dollars or something — some very trivial amount," he said.
"And in fact, I'm pleased to say we're worth rather more than that."
Carbon would be the most expensive ingredient in building your own Cumberbatch — more than $67,000 Cdn worth, Bryson said.
"You would think you'd just go off and get a bag of charcoal or something, but actually, [the Society] used purified forms of carbon."
The Society calculated their total price using "the most valuable, the most refined products they could find, which I think is a good idea, because you want to make the best human you possibly can," Bryson said.
"Especially if it's going to be Benedict Cumberbatch."
Humans' building blocks the same as 'a pile of dirt'
Even more astounding, he said, was that "everything that's in you ... is exactly the same stuff you would find in a pile of dirt. But in a pile of dirt, obviously, it just lies there. It doesn't do anything."
"And yet somehow, for reasons we really don't understand, you put them into human form, and they start to reproduce and they become animate, and we get life."
That, said Bryson, hits on what will probably always remain the biggest mystery in biology: "How does life happen?"
In the meantime, scientists can deliberate over the cost of the elements of a human body — which, it turns out, is also up for debate.
The PBS program NOVA performed a similar calculation a few years ago, Bryson said, and found that it would cost just $168 US to make a human.
"So it obviously depends a lot on where you shop."
Written by Allie Jaynes. Produced by Karin Marley.