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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/577

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567
ADDRESS BEFORE THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION.

Schwann announced the important generalization that there is one universal principle of development for the elementary part of organisms, however different they may be in appearance, and that this principle is the formation of cells. The enunciation of the fundamental principle that the elementary tissues consisted of cells constituted a step in the progress of biological science which will forever stamp the century now drawing to a close with a character and renown equalling those which it has derived from the most brilliant discoveries in the physical sciences. It provided biologists with the visible anatomical units through which the external forces operating on, and the energy generated in, living matter come into play. It dispelled forever the old mystical idea of the influence exercised by vapors or spirits in living organisms. It supplied the physiologist and pathologist with the specific structures through the agency of which the functions of organisms are discharged in health and disease. It exerted an enormous influence on the progress of practical medicine. A review of the progress of knowledge of the cell may appropriately enter into an address on this occasion.

 

STRUCTURE OF CELLS.

A cell is a living particle, so minute that it needs a microscope for its examination; it grows in size, maintains itself in a state of activity, responds to the action of stimuli, reproduces its kind and in the course of time it degenerates and dies.

Let us glance at the structure of a cell to determine its constituent parts and the role which each plays in the function to be discharged. The original conception of a cell, based upon the study of the vegetable tissues, was a minute vesicle inclosed by a definite wall, which exercised chemical or metabolic changes on the surrounding material and secreted into the vesicle its characteristic contents. A similar conception was at first also entertained regarding the cells of animal tissues; but as observations multiplied, it was seen that numerous elementary particles, which were obviously in their nature cells, did not possess an inclosing envelope. A wall ceased to have a primary value as a constituent part of a cell, the necessary vesicular character of which therefore could no longer be entertained.

The other constituent parts of a cell are the cell plasm, which forms the body of the cell, and the nucleus embedded in its substance. Notwithstanding the very minute size of the nucleus, which even in the largest cells is not more than one-five-hundredth of an inch in diameter, and usually is considerably smaller, its almost constant form, its welldefined sharp outline and its power of resisting the action of strong reagents when applied to the cell, have from the period of its discovery by Robert Brown caused histologists to bestow on it much attention,