The Discovery Of Cells

All living things are made up of one or more cells. A cell is the smallest unit that can carry on all of the processes of life. Beginning in the 17th century, curious naturalists were able to use microscopes to study objects too small to be seen with the unaided eye. Their studies led them to propose the cellular basis of life.


In 1665, English scientist Robert Hooke studied nature by using an early light microscope, such as the one in Figure 4-1a. A light microscope is an instrument that uses optical lenses to magnify objects by bending light rays. Hooke looked at a thin slice of cork from the bark of a cork oak tree. "I could exceedingly plainly perceive it to be all perforated and porous," Hooke wrote. He described "a great many little boxes" that reminded him of the cubicles or "cells" where monks live. When Hooke focused his microscope on the cells of tree stems, roots, and ferns, he found that each had similar little boxes. The drawings that Hooke made of the cells he saw are shown in Figure 4-1b. The "little boxes" that Hooke observed were the remains of dead plant cells, such as the cork cells shown in Figure 4-1c.

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