Cell Theory

Cell theory

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A prokaryote

Cell theory refers to the idea as cells are the basic unit of structure in every living thing. Development of this theory during the mid 17th century was made possible by advances in microscopy. This theory is one of the foundations of biology. The theory says that new cells are formed from other existing cells, and that the cell is a fundamental unit of structure, function and organization in all living organisms.




Drawing of the structure of cork by Robert Hooke that appeared in Micrographia.

The cell was discovered by Robert Hooke in 1665. He examined (under a coarse, compound microscope) very thin slices of cork and saw a multitude of tiny pores that he remarked looked like the walled compartments a monk would live in. Because of this association, Hooke called them cells, the name they still bear. However, Hooke did not know their real structure or function.[1] Hooke’s description of these cells (which were actually non-living cell walls) was published in Micrographia.[2] His cell observations gave no indication of the nucleusand other organelles found in most living cells.

The first person to make a compound microscope was Zacharias Jansen, while the first to witness a live cell under a microscope wasAntonie van Leeuwenhoek, who in 1674 described the algae Spirogyra and named the moving organisms animalcules, meaning “little animals”.[3] Leeuwenhoek probably also saw bacteria.[4] Cell theory was in contrast to the vitalism theories proposed before the discovery of cells.

The idea that cells were separable into individual units was proposed by Ludolph Christian Treviranus[5] and Johann Jacob Paul Moldenhawer.[6] All of this finally led to Henri Dutrochet formulating one of the fundamental tenets of modern cell theory by declaring that “The cell is the fundamental element of organization”.[7]

The observations of Hooke, Leeuwenhoek, Schleiden, Schwann, Virchow, and others led to the development of the cell theory. The cell theory is a widely accepted explanation of the relationship between cells and living things. The cell theory states:

  • All living things or organisms are made of cells and their products.
  • New cells are created by old cells dividing into two.
  • Cells are the basic building units of life.

The cell theory holds true for all living things, no matter how big or small, or how simple or complex. Since according to research, cells are common to all living things, they can provide information about all life. And because all cells come from other cells, scientists can study cells to learn about growth, reproduction, and all other functions that living things perform. By learning about cells and how they function, you can learn about all types of living things.

Credit for developing cell theory is usually given to three scientists: Theodor Schwann, Matthias Jakob Schleiden, and Rudolf Virchow. In 1839, Schwann and Schleiden suggested that cells were the basic unit of life. Their theory accepted the first two tenets of modern cell theory (see next section, below). However, the cell theory of Schleiden differed from modern cell theory in that it proposed a method of spontaneous crystallization that he called “free cell formation”.[8] In 1855, Rudolf Virchow concluded that all cells come from pre-existing cells, thus completing the classical cell theory. (Note that the idea that all cells come from pre-existing cells had in fact already been proposed by Robert Remak—Virchow is considered to have plagarised Remak.[9])

Modern interpretation

The generally accepted parts of modern cell theory include:

  1. All known living things are made up of one or more cells.
  2. All living cells arise from pre-existing cells by division.
  3. The cell is the fundamental unit of structure and function in all living organisms.
  4. The activity of an organism depends on the total activity of independent cells.
  5. Energy flow (metabolism and biochemistry) occurs within cells.
  6. Cells contain hereditary information (DNA) which is passed from cell to cell during cell division.
  7. All cells are basically the same in chemical composition in organisms of similar species.

Types of cells

Cells can be subdivided into the following subcategories:

  1. Prokaryotes: Prokaryotes lack a nucleus (though they do have circular DNA) and other membrane-bound organelles (though they do contain ribosomes). Bacteria and Archaea are twodomains of prokaryotes.
  2. Eukaryotes: Eukaryotes, on the other hand, have distinct nuclei bound by a nuclear membrane and membrane-bound organelles (mitochondria, chloroplasts, lysosomes, rough and smoothendoplasmic reticulum, vacuoles). In addition, they possess organized chromosomes which store genetic material. From 1-D

See also

  • Germ theory of disease
  • Cell biology
  • Cell adhesion
  • Cellular differentiation


  1. ^ Inwood, Stephen (2003). The man who knew too much: the strange and inventive life of Robert Hooke, 1635-1703. London: Pan. pp. 72. ISBN 0-330-48829-5.
  2. ^ Karling JS (1939). “Schleiden’s Contribution to the Cell Theory”. The American Naturalist 73(749): 517–37. DOI:10.1086/280862.
  3. ^ Moll WAW (2006). “Antonie van Leeuwenhoek”. Archived from the original on 2008-06-02. Retrieved 2008-11-25.
  4. ^ Porter JR (June 1976). “Antony van Leeuwenhoek: tercentenary of his discovery of bacteria”.Bacteriol Rev 40 (2): 260–9. PMC 413956. PMID 786250.
  5. ^ Treviranus, Ludolph Christian 1811, “Beyträge zur Pflanzenphysiologie”
  6. ^ Moldenhawer, Johann Jacob Paul 1812, “Beyträge zur Anatomie der Pflanzen”
  7. ^ Dutrochet, Henri 1824, “Recherches anatomiques et physiologiques sur la structure intime des animaux et des vegetaux, et sur leur motilite, par M.H. Dutrochet, avec deux planches”
  8. ^ Schleiden, Matthias Jakob 1839,”Contributions to Phytogenesis”
  9. ^ Silver, George A. (January 1987). “Virchow, the heroic model in medicine: health policy by accolade”. American Journal of Public Health 77 (1): 86. PMC 1646803. PMID 3538915. Retrieved 2011-04-04.

Further reading

  • Turner W (January 1890). “The Cell Theory, Past and Present”. J Anat Physiol 24 (Pt 2): 253–87. PMC 1328050. PMID 17231856.
  • Tavassoli M (January 1980). “The cell theory: a foundation to the edifice of biology”. Am. J. Pathol. 98 (1): 44. PMC 1903404. PMID 6985772.

External links