Inside the Cell: The New Frontier of Medical Science

Inside the Cell: The New Frontier of Medical Science

Inside the Cell: The New Frontier of Medical Science

Inside the Cell: The New Frontier of Medical Science

Excerpt

The next big leap in medical science depends largely on how fast and how well scientists succeed in understanding the activity of thousands of tiny organs in a new world which they have only recently begun to explore -- the world of the living cell.

This miniature world holds the key to the major health problems of today: cancer, atherosclerosis, genetic diseases, diabetes, mental illness. It is no longer a matter of fighting bacteria or viruses, now that vaccines and antibiotics can prevent or cure so many infectious diseases. The illnesses that still defeat us are far more insidious, for they result from disorders within the human cell, the basic unit of the body. To control these, we need to know much more about what goes on inside the cell.

In the past 30 years, researchers have created a new field, modern cell biology. Through an ingenious combination of electron microscopy, biochemical separations and analyses of cell parts, X-ray crystallography and other means, they have revealed the cell as enormously complex and tightly organized -- a strange, watery world in which diaphanous particles of various sizes and shapes float about, in rapid motion, engaged in thousands of chemical reactions. Each cell has its own power plants; its own digestive system; its own factories for making proteins and other essential molecules. Most important, it has an intricate communications network through which it can regulate its own activities (for example, "decide" when to reproduce) as well as receive messages from other cells, sense changes in its environment, and send out messages of its own.

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