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The History of the Cell: A Brief Explanation

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Bambe is a Licensed Science Teacher. Her interest in science never stops her from the pursuit of unending discoveries and knowledge.

This guide will break down the cell, including what it is and how it was discovered.

This guide will break down the cell, including what it is and how it was discovered.

As science continues to develop, many theories are constantly being formulated—one of which is the cell theory. The theory suggests that all organisms are composed of similar units of an organization. Although an elephant, a sunflower, and an amoeba differ externally, all are internally made of the same building blocks. In fact, trillions of cells can create a complex structure of organisms. This idea is the central tenant of biology.

While the invention of the telescope paved the way for exploration of the cosmos, the microscope helped science look into the smaller worlds. This article will take a look at how cells were first discovered and how that discovery impacted all of biology as we know it.

A Brief Introduction to Modern Cell Theory

  • All known living things are made up of cells.
  • The cell is a structural and functional unit of all living things.
  • All cells come from pre-existing cells by division. (Spontaneous generation does not occur.)
  • Cells contain hereditary information that is passed from cell to cell during cell division.
  • All cells are basically the same in chemical composition.
  • All energy flow (metabolism and biochemistry) of life occurs within cells.
This oil painting of Robert Hooke (1635-1703) was created by Rita Greer in 2009.

This oil painting of Robert Hooke (1635-1703) was created by Rita Greer in 2009.

Who Discovered the Cell?

The exploration of the cell would not have been possible if not for the advent to the microscope. Scientist Robert Hooke renovated the design of the existing compound microscope in 1665. His microscope had three lenses and a stage light, which illuminated and enlarged the specimens.

This development allowed Hooke to discover something wondrous when he placed a piece of cork under the microscope. He printed his observations of this tiny and previously unseen world in his book, Micrographia.

When Was the Cell Discovered?

The book Micrographia detailed Robert Hooke's observations of this tiny and previously unseen world. In 1665, the cell was first discovered and named by Hooke.

Robert Hooke's nine months of experimentations and sleepless nights are recorded in his 1665 book Micrographia: or Some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies Made by Magnifying Glasses. With Observations and Inquiries Thereupon. It was the first book that detailed his observations made through a microscope. It showcases several drawings, some of which were thanks to Christopher Wren, such as that of a flea seen through the microscope.

Hooke was the first person to use the word "cell" to identify microscopic or minute structures when he was explaining what he saw in cork.

How Was the Cell Discovered?

As Robert Hooke improved his microscope, he put a cork under it and saw an unseen small world. He saw something like rooms where monks lived, which is what gave him the inspiration for the name "cell." He actually saw dead cell walls of plant cells (cork), as it looked visible under the microscope.

The cell walls observed by Hooke gave him no idea of the nucleus, however, or other cell parts found within living cells. The first person to see a live cell under a microscope was Anton van Leeuwenhoek.

The cork described in "Micrographia."

The cork described in "Micrographia."

Why Is the Discovery of Cells Important?

The discovery of the cell has created a greater impact on science than Hooke could have ever imagined in 1665. It is important to study and have knowledge of cells for the following reasons:

  • to give us a fundamental understanding of the building blocks of all living organisms,
  • the help spark advances in medical technology and treatment, and
  • to facilitate in-depth studies of critical diseases in hopes of finding potential cures.

All of these benefits and developments in the field of microbiology grew from a single observation of cells in a cork.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Bambe


Jishnu Raveendran on August 28, 2020:

Its quite interesting n helpful

Sam on August 27, 2020:

Great .. bambe.... I felt like butterflies

Vikkie on August 24, 2020:

Thanks for this inventuon info...great one friend

Bambe (author) from Philippines on August 24, 2020:

Thanks, Sahar. Yeah, I will.

Sahar from Karachi, Pakistan on August 23, 2020:

Its awsome bambe kindly plz check my articles and may be you like my articles such a knowledge able article u written

Bambe (author) from Philippines on August 19, 2020:

I'm glad that it was helpful. Thank you.

Danny from India on August 18, 2020:

Wonderful article on cellular origins Bambe.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on August 18, 2020:

Nice work. Well presented.

Ankita B on August 18, 2020:

You have organised the content very well. I enjoyed reading this interesting article Bambe.

Lorna Lamon on August 18, 2020:

I enjoyed this well structured and interesting article Bambe on the history, function and importance of cells. Thank you for sharing.