November 27, 2013

From Tiny Cells, Mighty Organisms Grow

by Christine Hoekenga

An African Globe Lily Cell During Mitosis

A cell from an African globe lily, undergoing mitosis. Dye has been applied to make chromosomes (blue) easily visible. Image courtesy: Andrew S. Bajer, University of Oregon

It’s hard to imagine that each of us–the millions of cells that make up our our bones, muscles, blood vessels, organs, and the rest of of our complex, living bodies–had such tiny, humble beginnings. But all of these specialized tissues with their wide ranging functions developed through thousands of generations of cell division, starting when each of us was an embryo, smaller than the head of a pin.

Our newest Visionlearning module, Cell Division I: The Cell Cycle, explores what happens within a cell that allows it to divide and produce two identical daughter cells.  The process of cell division has several distinct phases, and figuring out what is happening during each one of those phases has taken a lot of creative experimentation and many hours of squinting through microscopes.

SEM image of red and white blodd cells

Blood cells like this T-lymphocyte (right), platelet (center) and red blood cell (left), are three types of specialized cells found in the human circulatory system. Image courtesy: Electron Microscopy Facility at The National Cancer Institute at Frederick

The module also introduces readers to some of the scientists who have contributed to this body of knowledge, including

  • Walther Flemming, who developed dyes in the 19th Century that allowed cellular biologists through the ages to study cells more clearly, and
  • Tim Hunt, who used radioactive bio-markers in sea urchin eggs to discover cyclin, a protein that is crucial to controlling the cell cycle.

Cell Division I: The Cell Cycle is the first in a series of modules about the intricate processes that allow cells to divide and make complex lifeforms–from oak trees to humans–possible. Please let us know what you think of this first edition, and stay tuned for future modules in the series.

For more background on what cells are, how they were discovered, and the different types of cells, read our module The Discovery and Structure of Cells.

Browse The CELL,an extensive library of photos and videos of cell–from the American Society for Cell Biology.

Christine Hoekenga

Written by

Christine is a freelance writer, editor, and content strategist, specializing in science and nature. She holds an Bachelor's degree in Environmental Science and Media Studies and a Master's of Science Writing. She has been working in science communication and education for nearly a decade as a journalist, an organizer for conservation groups, and a museum educator. Before joining the Visionlearning team, she served as the New Media and Online Community Manager for the Webby award-winning Smithsonian Ocean Portal. Christine is assisting Visionlearning with developing new modules and glossary terms, managing the blog, and outreach through social media.