The Wow effect
Sometimes you see something and it stops you in your tracks. You don't just give it a cursory modernistic glance and move on. You stare at it, transfixed. That's what occured when I happened upon this amazing shot.
This is the most detailed representation of human cell we have been able to show. It is made possible by collaboration across the areas of radiography, nuclear magnetic resonance and cryoelectronic microscopy. If you're reading this, look at your body. It is made up of approx 40 trillion of these little guys! 80 billion of them are helping you decipher and follow the squiggles on this post that your grey matter comprehends as words.
The cell is the smallest unit of life. They are the building blocks of ever living thing you see around you - the birds and the trees, the cats and rhe dogs the friends and the foes. Like many English words, their roots can be traced back to Latin. The Latin word cella which means small room is where we derive the word from.
Inside each cell, billions of molecules continually bounce around in a cosmic spin. I say cosmic, as the opening photo reminds of images I've seen before of representations of galaxies and stars so far away, it is beyond comprehension. The micro cellular landscape and the macro distant universe have much in common, as proven by many of the world's finest minds over recent decades.
Peter Lock, a cell microscopist involved with the project says the work is “awe-inspiring”. It certainly is Peter!
While the Cosmos was first made more visible with the invention of the telescope it was the microsope which first magnified the smallest entities - molecules, atoms, cells. showing what living forms were composed of. The cell was first discovered by a fella called Robert Hooke way back in 1665. He pondered that the cell looked like the small rooms which monks inhabited (cellula) which explains where the word cell came from. These cells were cork cells that Hooke zoomed in on. He pioneered an extremely important discovery.
Formulation of the Cell Theory
In 1838 the first observations about cells were put forward. These were:
- The cell is the unit of structure, physiology, and organization in living things.
- The cell retains a dual existence as a distinct entity and a building block in the construction of organisms.
- Cells form by free-cell formation, similar to the formation of crystals (spontaneous generation).
That last one of course is a falsehood. Rudolph Virchow later told us that “all cells only arise from pre-existing cells”. This was a fundamental finding a cornerstone of all subsequent findings.
Modern Cell Theory
Have a look around. Anything you see which is alive is made up of cells - plants, animals, humans. All are held together by trillions of these microscopic units.
All cells come from pre-existing cells by division. Cells contains hereditary information which is passed from cell to cell during cell division.
All cells are basically the same in chemical composition. All energy flow (metabolism & biochemistry) of life occurs within cells.
Cell biology exploded in the 1950’s. It became possible to maintain, grow, and manipulate cells outside of living organisms.
The study of the structure and function of cells continues today, in a branch of biology known as cytology. Advances in equipment, including cytology microscopes and reagents, have allowed this field to progress, particularly in the clinical setting.
We’ve come a long way since the humble 17th century microscope. Today’s electron microscopes show us individual atoms, which is amazing. But capturing images of the fine detail of living cells remains a challenge. “There’s beauty in watching the cell and then there’s incredibly complex science,” says Betzig, who was awarded a Nobel prize recently for his hyper high-resolution microscopy.
Inside each cell, 10,000 types of protein – and 10 billion molecules in total – wriggle and squirm in what Betzig describes as a “crazy dance”. Figuring out their steps is important: they are the ones carrying out the chemistry of life.