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Archive for March 2010

What are we made up of? Not hair. Not skin. Not bones. But cells. If a very thin slice of a plant stem is cut and put under a microscope you will see thousands of tiny box-like structures. These are cells.

You could think of cells as the sibling of particles. Only where particles make up our world’s infrastructure, cells make up the infrastructure of the living beings that inhabit the world. Thusly, cells are living and particles are non-living.

When you think about it, cells are mind boggling. It’s crazy to think that thousands of miniscule structures make up your entire body. How is that? Well, your body is much like a food chain. Cells make up tissues, tissues make up organs, several organs make up a system, and several systems make up an organism. Of course, it is unlike a food chain in the sense that organs don’t eat tissues etc.

The physical aspects of cells

Let’s start at the bottom of the chain, and basically the whole foundation of organisms. Animal cells are usually rounder than plant cells, which are boxier. An animal cell’s physical components are a cytoplasm, mitochondria, cell membrane, granules, and a nucleus. Plant cells consist of cellulose, a cell membrane, a vacuole, cell sap, plastids, chlorophyll, chloroplasts and a nucleus. Though animal and plant cells have different components, every single cell has a cell membrane. However, only most have a nucleus.

When put under a microscope, the typical animal cell’s cytoplasm looks like a thick liquid floating about, and floating about said thick liquid is the mitochondria and granules. Right smack in the middle is the nucleus, or the brain of the cell. It decides what goes in and what goes out and what is kept. The shape of every cell differs, thus it is impossible to draw a typical cell, but it is possible to show a rough sketch to show the characteristics which are standard in a cell.

The anatomy of an animal cell.

The plant cell’s structure differs greatly. Usually it is a rectangular shape, with its nucleus hiding in a bottom corner. Hence, if you were to cut the plant transversely (crosswise), you may not see a nucleus at all. Its vacuole takes up most of the cell, and the chloroplasts are sprinkle much like jellybeans on the outline of the vacuole. Weird but true.

The anatomy of a plant cell.

For cells to make tissues and those tissues make organs etc, they have to be specialized. Like the different people who make up the different parts of our world, cells are different. Though they are not as unique as each human, likewise they each have their own purpose.

Specialization starts with one cell splitting into two. Let’s say we have one cell (just to let you know, this cell’s specialization is, specialization). So, cell one splits into two. Now we have two cells, one cell becomes specialized and the other retains its ability to split. The beauty of specialization is how it’s so simple, yet it’s vital to all organisms. I’m sure you know how a baby is born. Let’s skip to before the baby is a fetus. It is a single cell. Then, like magic, it divides. At the speed of light, from one to two, to four, to eight, to 16 etc. Before you know it, you have a whole fetus, and the division doesn’t stop till the baby is fully grown.

Tissue culture

Animal tissue culture is when you take developing animal tissues and treat it with enzymes to separate the cells. The cells are then put into a culture vessel (shallow dish) containing nutrient solution, which makes the plant grow artificially. The vessel will eventually have a layer one cell thick, upon which the division will stop there until the cells are removed to another vessel. However, most mammal cells divide no more than 20 times.

Plant tissue culture is rather amazing. From just small amounts of plant tissue, great quantities of plants can be reproduced. First, a small amount of plant tissue is treated with enzymes, which separate the individual cells. The cells are then treated with hormones which help roots, stems and leaves grow from said cells.

And alternate method is taking a small piece of plant tissue and putting it on nutrient jelly. The nutrient jelly, as you may have guessed, gives the tissue the nutrients to grow into a callus, and eventually a plant.

You may be wondering what the use of tissue culture is, we have the organic plants and animals, why do we need artificial ones?

Well, tissue culture, much like pop culture, can be done at a mass level. Tissue culture, perhaps unlike pop culture, is very useful. When used at said mass level, it can help research on diseases, and sometimes can take the place of the cruel practice of animal testing.

Cells… superstars?

Though they may seem boring, they’re a vital part of our lives, indeed, they are us. Studying cells can help to develop live-saving vaccines, particularly recent progress for a vaccine against AIDS, which can prevent the AIDS from entering a cell.

Cells are greatly needed, well-liked, and respected (Well… you know what I mean). In a pop culture context, you could say that cells are the superstar of biology. Though they don’t have to worry about the paparazzi, and probably don’t have to worry about falling out of the spotlight, for children and adults alike will be studying them for years to come.

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March 2010
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