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How the Cell Theory Came to Be

We may all know the cell theory today and its three principles:

  • All living things are made up of cells.

  • All cells are created from pre-existing cells.

  • The cell is the most basic unit of life.

However, before such rules existed, there were many studies leading up to them.


Gunderman, R. (n.d.). Robert Hooke: The ‘English Leonardo’ who was a 17th-century scientific superstar. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/robert-hooke-the-english-leonardo-who-was-a-17th-century-scientific-superstar-119497

The first cell was identified in a cork by Robert Hooke in 1665. After examining the cork under a microscope, Hooke saw what reminded him of small rooms, which can be referred to as "cellula" in Latin. That is where the name "cell" is derived from.


Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. (2023, August 29). Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonie_van_Leeuwenhoek

Today, microscopes are able to magnify up to 1500x, which is significantly more powerful than they were back in the day. Anton van Leeuwenhoek is credited with developing microscopes in the 17th century. His microscope was capable of much more than the others.


The beginnings of cell theory: Schleiden, Schwann, and Virchow - Hektoen International. (2022, July 19). Hektoen International - an Online Medical Humanities Journal. https://hekint.org/2022/07/15/the-beginnings-of-cell-theory-schleiden-schwann-and-virchow/

In 1838, Matthias Schleiden, a botanist, took his studies to the next level once he discovered that plants were constructed of cells. His friend, Theodor Schwann, a physiologist, took his knowledge of animals and used it to expand upon Schleiden's ideas. He presented the notion that all living things are composed of cells.

Rudolf Virchow. (2023, August 28). Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolf_Virchow

In 1855, Rudolph Virchow published "Omni cellula e cellula," which translates to "every cell stems from another cell". Sound familiar? Yes, it is a principle of the current cell theory! He concluded that cells are created by the process of cell division.

In modern times, many aspects of science seem obvious to us. However, there are many mysteries yet to be solved. With the contributions of these prominent figures—and many more—the cell theory was able to be! It is always astonishing how scientific discoveries are like building blocks, each idea being stacked upon one another to understand our universe on a greater level.

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