History and Anatomy of a Cell

Jeremy Freeman


What do you see when you hold up a blade of grass to the sun, or a butterfly with a flashlight held up against its wing? You see many tiny lines running up and down, side to side, and some even at different slants and angles. This is because that is the vascular construction of what is visible to the human eye; however, a view that can only be seen deeper with a microscope will reveal that there are tiny little cells clustered together that make up the view you saw when looking at the sun. These cells are what the makeup of every living thing is.

Before the invention of the microscope, no one could see what a cell embodied. It was in the 1600s when scientists utilized microscopes to observe and view living things.  Robert Hooke is the scientist that was looking at the cork of a plant when he initially realized that the cork had different empty chambers, thus he named it a cell after “they reminded him of a monastery’s tiny rooms.” Many years later we know that cells are not empty chambers, but have living matter within them.  Following Hooke there were many biologists who used microscopes to study and explore the cell. It was not until fluorescent light was added to the microscope that it could be seen that there was movement in living cells, and that the structure could be seen; however, the radiation that passes through the matter under the scope makes it impossible to see the microscopic structures such as viruses and even proteins. Many microscopes have been invented since the initial ones, but nothing was good enough to see what was truly happening on the inside of the cell until the 1990s when researchers produced a new type of microscope that could “produce images by tracing the surface of samples with a fine probe.” It is understandably important that this completely revolutionized the study of cells and the living things inside of them, including protein molecules and DNA.

Cells come in a multitude of sizes and shapes to fit like a glove to whatever function or organization feature they are providing to the overall living organism. All cells have two things in common, they are fully enclosed in by a cell membrane, and at any given time in their lives they carry biological information, also understood as DNA. There are more determining factors that put the cell into different broad categories, having a nucleus and lacking a nucleus, better established as Eukaryotes and Prokaryotes. Both are words are of Greek origin; karyon meaning “kernel”, or nucleus, and “Eu” means true, “pro” meaning before.  When evaluating these words, it can be seen that the idea of prokaryotic cells came prior nuclei progression. An easy way to differentiate the two is if it starts with Eu, it sounds like yoo, so yoo have a nucleus. Prokaryotes on the other hand do not have a nucleus under any circumstances. Eukaryotic cells are usually larger in size and more complex than prokaryotic cells, their genetic material is separated from the rest of the cell, and they have internal membranes and many structures. Prokaryotes on the other hand are usually smaller in size and much simpler; they have genetic material, just not in a nucleus like the eukaryotic cells. They reproduce, grow, and even respond to environmental stimuli. An example of a prokaryote is a bacterium.

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