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5 Things We (Still) Don’t Know About Cells

By October 4, 2018No Comments

Picture one of your cells. If you’re not a biologist, chances are you’re thinking about the fried-egg-reminiscent illustration from your grade school science textbooks.

Cells were first discovered more than 350 years ago in the cork tree and understood to be the basic building block of all living beings more than 200 years ago — so we must have cells all figured out by now, right? Not so fast, researchers say.

There’s been a huge amount of progress in the past several decades as well as ongoing studies in cell biology labs around the world to understand how aspects of our cells work and what happens when they stop working properly in disease and aging, but there’s still an astonishing amount that we don’t understand about this fundamental unit of life.

“The wonderful thing about biology is that there’s so much that is still undiscovered,” said Allan Jones, Ph.D., President and Chief Executive Officer of the Allen Institute. “We know so little about the rules that govern how our cells work, let alone how our bodies work.”

There’s a short list of big questions about cells that have gone basically unanswered since the 19th century, said Rick Horwitz, Ph.D., a cell biologist and Executive Director of the Allen Institute for Cell Science, a division of the Allen Institute.

We asked Horwitz and his colleagues to break down some of what scientists still don’t know about cells — and how they hope to get at the answers.