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What level of complexity is necessary for life?

Aristotle (384 322BC)

Unorganised material (non-living)

Organised material (living)

Homogeneous (tissues)

Heterogeneous (organs)
2010 Paul Billiet ODWS

Tissues and Organs

Image Credit Muscle tissue (surloin steak)

Image Credit Kidney longitudinal section

What level of complexity is necessary for life?

C17th microscopists discovered tissues were made of cells (Hooke 1665 and Leeuwenhoek 1677)

2010 Paul Billiet ODWS

Image Credit Cork cells

C18th and C19th showed that tissues were made of cells The cells of a particular tissue had a common structure.

Image Credit Liver cells

What is a cell?
Taken to its simplest form A plasma membrane Surrounding cytoplasm Containing hereditary material.

2010 Paul Billiet ODWS

What level of complexity is necessary for life?

Xavier Bichat (17711802): An organ is composed of different tissues Several organs can be grouped together as an organ system (e.g. the digestive system) An idea of hierarchy of structure developed:

Organism Organ-system

Organ Tissue Cell

2010 Paul Billiet ODWS

What level of complexity is necessary for life?

Purkinje (1835) Observed a fertilised hen's egg (a single cell) could develop into an embryo (many specialised cells in a compact mass) C19th botanists showed that plant tissues consist of many different types of cells.

2010 Paul Billiet ODWS


Matthias Schleiden (1838) & Theodor Schwann (1839) The cell is the basic unit of living tissue The cell is an autonomous unit (a citizen) grouped together to form an organism (the society).

2010 Paul Billiet ODWS

Omnis cellula e cellula

Rudolf Virchow (1858) noted that: all cells come from pre-existing cells

Image Credit Cell division


The counter arguments: Reichert a morphologist: Argued that an organism has a structured plan

Image Credit Frog embryo

Image Credit Frog embryo fate map

Strasberger a cytologist: Cells are connected in an organism sometimes by cytoplasmic bridges

Image Credit Black sapote (Diospyros) fruit

Acellular organisms
Some organisms do not have cellular compartments

Image Credit Common field mushroom (Agaricus bisporus)

Image Credit Fungal hyphae

Sherrington and Pavlov neurophysiologists: Cells communicate with one another and they are co-ordinated in their actions
Image Credit Spiney dendrites of the hippocampus region of the brain. Red dots show the spines associated with synapses.

Unicellular organisms
Some organisms only consist of a single cell But these do usually have the components of cells (nucleus, membrane etc)

Image Credit Paramecium

Cellular components
Some cells lack the basic components But as a result their functions are affected.

Image Credit Red blood cells

Tissue culture
Cells can be cultured away from a body But this often requires elaborate support systems

Image Credit Tissue culture hood U of Wisconsin

1. Multicellular organisms develop from a single fertilised germ cell (the zygote)
2. The basic components of the cell are repeated in every cell


1. Some organisms are not divided into cellular compartments = non-cellular
2. Certain cells lack the basic components Cells in multicellular organisms are highly specialised Unicellular organisms have a cytoplasm that is not subdivided Should be considered as acellular

2010 Paul Billiet ODWS

3. All cells come from cells Cells can be taken from organisms and cultured away from the body New individuals can be cultured from isolated cells Regeneration capacity = totipotence 4. Homeostatic control and coordination is required to maintain the whole organism whether it is unicellular or multicellular.
2010 Paul Billiet ODWS


3. Remove cells from complete multicellular organisms requires elaborate life support systems to keep them alive

Cell theory or organismal theory?

That the cell is the basic unit of living organisms is accepted That unicellular organisms carry out all the functions of life is accepted BUT multicellular organisms are not simply a mass of similar building blocks

2010 Paul Billiet ODWS

More is different!
As a multicellular organism grows and develops it follows a structured plan The cells specialise (differentiate) The whole organism shows homeostatic control A developing multicellular organism shows emergent properties It is not just the sum of the parts

2010 Paul Billiet ODWS