The Beautiful Story of the Cell

Diagram of Robert Hooke’s microscope.

What are we really made of? A chemist would say Carbon, Hydrogen. Oxygen and some other elements and he would be right. But let’s look at the bigger picture here. What are organisms really made of? Starting from bacteria and going all the way to humans. You may not think it now, but way back in the early 1600s, this was the question that puzzled many scientists!

During that time, however, biologists were in luck! The 1600s were the time that the microscope was invented and we were beginning to discover what we now call the microscopic universe. Robert Hooke (1635- 1702), a physicist, microscopist and curator at The Royal Society of London, was the first person to ever observe what we call a Cell. He managed to do this by cutting fine, thin sheets of cork. While writing his observations, he likened what he saw to rooms of a dormitory. But make no mistake! Hooke didn’t pursue his observations any further. So although he was the very first person to “see” cells, he was not the one who “fully” discovered them since his observations were explained to be some form of a fluid transport mechanism in plants.

Drawing of cork made by Hooke. This is what he saw when he first looked through a microscope at a thin sheet of cork.

Further observations were made by Hooke’s colleagues and students, but it wasn’t until the 1800s that the Cell Theory started forming. Henri Milne-Edwards was one of the first people to come up with the idea that animal tissue is made out of “globules”. What he got wrong though, was his belief in all globules being exactly the same. More on that in later posts.

Matthias Schleiden (1804-1881) was the scientist who proposed that all plant material consists of cells or at least parts of the cell. Later in 1839, Theodor Schwann (1810-1882) gave the idea that animal tissues also consist of cells. Thus, the cell theory became relatively complete. In later centuries, as we continued to study cells, we began to understand what they’re made of, how they work and why they are important.

Why is knowing about the cell important today? Because we are all made out of cells. That’s right! You, me, your pet, the plants around you, fungi and bacteria are all made out of cells. Different types of cells mind you, but still cells. So, in order for us to understand human biology and how it works, we need to start from the basics. We need to start with the cell.

In later posts, we will cover more of the cell and its functions. Until then stay tuned!

Bibliography

History of Biology: Cell Theory and Cell Structure – Biology Encyclopedia – cells, plant, body, function, process, animal, different, organisms, chromosomes. (2018). Retrieved from http://www.biologyreference.com/Gr-Hi/History-of-Biology-Cell-Theory-and-Cell-Structure.html

History of the Cell, Part I. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.independent.com/news/2010/jan/15/history-cell-part-i/

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