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ENCYCLOPEDIC ENTRY

ENCYCLOPEDIC ENTRY

Cell Theory

Cell Theory

Scientists once thought that life spontaneously arose from nonliving things. Thanks to experimentation and the invention of the microscope, it is now known that life comes from preexisting life and that cells come from preexisting cells.

Grades

5 - 8

Subjects

Biology

Image

Micrographia Cover

English scientist Robert Hooke published Micrographia in 1665. In it, he illustrated the smallest complete parts of an organism, which he called cells.

Photograph by Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In 1665, Robert Hooke published Micrographia, a book filled with drawings and descriptions of the organisms he viewed under the recently invented microscope. The invention of the microscope led to the discovery of the cell by Hooke. While looking at cork, Hooke observed box-shaped structures, which he called “cells” as they reminded him of the cells, or rooms, in monasteries. This discovery led to the development of the classical cell theory.

The classical cell theory was proposed by Theodor Schwann in 1839. There are three parts to this theory. The first part states that all organisms are made of cells. The second part states that cells are the basic units of life. These parts were based on a conclusion made by Schwann and Matthias Schleiden in 1838, after comparing their observations of plant and animal cells. The third part, which asserts that cells come from preexisting cells that have multiplied, was described by Rudolf Virchow in 1858, when he stated omnis cellula e cellula (all cells come from cells).

Since the formation of classical cell theory, technology has improved, allowing for more detailed observations that have led to new discoveries about cells. These findings led to the formation of the modern cell theory, which has three main additions: first, that DNA is passed between cells during cell division; second, that the cells of all organisms within a similar species are mostly the same, both structurally and chemically; and finally, that energy flow occurs within cells.

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Director
Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
Author
National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Producer
Clint Parks,
other
Last Updated

May 20, 2022

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