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The Cell - The Hidden Kingdom (Part 6/6)

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I see a cell in division, which is not round, but which has a mem.... the … it is … I don't know the technical term in English. There is some invagination of the cell membrane. That's the same word, invagination. So it begins to split into 2 like that. Right. So it invaginates at both sides. Yes. That means cells separating from each other and this stage, which takes a long time so you can't see the whole process because it takes several hours but you see snapshots of this process. Have a look. So it's not actually obvious. He must have been very persistent to see the individual stages from one cell as it begins to sort of fold in on itself and then divides into 2 cells. He must have done this experiment a lot of times. He must have used hundred of eggs, actually. And what's amazing is that what caught his attention were the few cells, the very few cells, that were in division. They may have easily been missed by some other researchers who may have thought these few cells in division are some artifacts under the microscope. But he focused on them and systematically studied them and these stages in division are actually those that he depicted in his publication. You look at the surroundings that Remack was working in which is a sort of dusty old attic. Well that…It's amazing that he came up with the results that he did! Well that shows you that sometimes the instruments themselves do not advance science, but the thinking of people and having new ideas is more important than good equipment, sometimes. And so Remack is a true pioneer. I would say he's one of the heroes in science, in cell biology, because he really persisted on this idea and supported it by very well founded observations.

Remack couldn't wait to tell his old buddy Virchow about the research. Virchow was now a professor of anatomy but you know what, he wasn't bowled over. He thought Remack's research was interesting but believed that this cell division was a rare event and only applied to the red blood cells of developing chicks. Big deal! Hardly a major breakthrough. Ever the diligent scientist, Remack went off to look for more evidence to find out find out if this process occurred in other cells, in other animals. To show this, he did something that kids have been doing for centuries, he went out and he got some frog spawn. With frog spawn, he could show how a single fertilised cell could turn into an embryo. If he was right, then at every stage of development he should see cells dividing to become various tissues, not just red blood cells, but int heart, muscle, bone, into a whole frog.

By now, scientists knew that the development of an organism began when an egg and a sperm combined, but they were hazy as to what happened afterwards. Remack witnessed the very first cell division just after the egg was fertilised and, seen here through a modern microscope, subsequent divisions. Two cells became four, four became eight, eight became sixteen. Cell division was the key. And over time, these cells formed all the different tissues of the embryo and eventually the frog itself. Remack had founded the field of embryology. That's how you get from one single fertilised egg cell into a fully functional animal, made of trillions of cells. He considered his work on Frogs to be the keystone of his theory - and what a theory! Remack had shown that cell division was how all new cells form and that it was a universal phenomenon across all nature and that cells were only born from other cells.

For over a decade Virchow had been unconvinced by Remack's research but it slowly dawned on him that his friend might actually be right. In 1855, Professor Virchow made a spectacular U-turn. In a widely read medical textbook, he took all of Remack's work on cell division and he simply claimed it as his own. Because he was the big man, the big professor people stood up and they took notice. He even came up with his own catchy Latin phrase to summarise it, Omnis cellula e cellula - all cells from other cells. Not surprisingly, the two fell out I'm sorry to say that Virchow was, and still is, celebrated in every textbook and Remack, the man who came up with the theory, just a footnote in the history of science. Yet out of this betrayal, one of the most powerful ideas in biology was revealed to the world. It is a truly profound concept because it means that all life on Earth must have begun with a single cell and all life on Earth shares a family tree. Cell theory had come of age.

On the brink of the 20th century scientists had a pretty modern understanding of the importance of the cell They'd come a long way since those squiggly drawings of tiny creatures that had so puzzled the fellows of the Royal Society. Now they knew that all life was made of cells, from plankton to people, and that cells could only come from other cells. Thousands of years of ignorance and superstition had been swept away. And yet as they looked closer into the world of the cell they realised that there were some really big questions that remained unanswered. Why are cells essential to life? What's going on inside? To find out, scientists would have to embark on a new endeavour and peer deeper within the cell. And what they were about to discover would turn out to be more complex, more extraordinary and more powerful than they could have possibly imagined.

Video Details

Duration: 7 minutes and 19 seconds
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English
Producer: BBC Four
Views: 1,689
Posted by: vallisso on Oct 28, 2009

Episode 1 of 3

Dr Adam Rutherford introduces a new three-part series that tells the extraordinary story of the scientific quest to discover the secrets of the cell and of life itself. Every living thing is made of cells, microscopic building blocks of almost unimaginable power and complexity.

The first part explores how centuries of scientific and religious dogma were overturned by the earliest discoveries of the existence of cells, and how scientists came to realise that there was, literally, more to life than meets the eye.

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