Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Historical Week Monks and Microscopes
07 August 2013

Monks and Microscopes

Robert Hooke (1635-1703) could have called them all sorts of things – capsules, pods, houses – instead he named the basic building blocks of life 'cells'. Looking down a microscope at a slice of cork (Quercus suber, left), he thought its honeycomb pattern resembled rooms in a monastery – rows and rows of tiny monks’ cells. With modern microscopes, not only can we see the shape and texture of similar cells in greater detail (pictured on the right) but it’s also possible to delve deeper; to follow what goes on inside. Far from being simply 'filled with juices' as Hooke described in 1665, we now know that both plant and animal cells are full of life: capable of growing, repairing, adapting and communicating – not unlike the hustle and bustle inside a 17th century monastery, really.

Written by John Ankers

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