Welcome to the first post of our introductory series! Over the next 8-10 weeks, we will be launching weekly posts introducing you to (or refreshing your memories on) fundamental aspects of science. We hope that these posts will allow you to become familiar with some of the terminology and scientific principles before we dive into more complex topics/ research. We also plan to reference (and link) our introductory posts in future posts to help you better understand the more complicated literature.

For today’s post, we will be talking all about CELLS.

You probably recall hearing the word cell in your highschool biology course, you might even remember that a cell is often referred to as the building block of life. However, chances are, you don’t remember much else about cells, your job as an accountant/ electrician/ cosmetologist probably doesn’t require that type of knowledge. So here’s a refresher…

Cells are fundamental molecules that serve as the basis for all living things. Animals, humans and even plants are composed of cells- in the case of humans, our body is composed of trillions of cells.1 Cells serve a variety of purposes, including: structural support, nutrient absorption and energy conversion and many other special functions.1 

While there are over 200 major types of cells within the human body, they are composed of the same basic components, or organelles.2 We can think of a cell as a factory, with each organelle playing an important role in maintaining the function of the factory. So let’s take a few minutes to go through our cellular “factory” and learn about the key players.

The plasma membrane is the outermost part of the cell.1 We can think of the plasma membrane as the entrance of the cell, regulated by the security guard. Much like a security guard regulates what is allowed in and out of the factory, the plasma membrane regulates what is allowed in and out of the cell.

Once we get into the cell, the first component is the cytoskeleton. The cytoskeleton maintains the shape of our cell,1 just like the walls maintain the shape of our factory.

Now we’re inside our factory and on the factory floor, or the cytoplasm. The cytoplasm contains most of the components of the cell (aka organelles) and is the site of most cell activity.1

Now let’s talk about the boss of the cell, called the nucleus. The nucleus controls the cell’s activity.1 The nucleus (boss) sits in the middle of the cell in her (girl power!) own office and oversees the functions of the cell. The nucleus contains the blueprints (DNA- described in our intro post next week) for how the cell should function.

The workers of our cell are the ribosomes. The ribosomes are building the factory’s products, which in this case are called proteins (check out our proteins post in 2 weeks).1

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is cell-factory-by-rhea-2.jpg

Our ribosomes are working at the assembly line, called the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) in cells.1

Once our ribosomes make our proteins in the ER, the proteins must be prepared for export. This occurs in the shipping department, or the golgi apparatus.1

With so much activity going on in the factory, we need a power plant. The power plant of the cell is called the mitochondria.1

Last, but certainly not least, our maintenance crew/ cleaning crew or the lysosomes and peroxisomes, are responsible for maintaining a functioning/ clean work environment and recycling parts.1

At any given time, each cell in your body is working. Your skin cells are protecting your insides, your muscle and bone cells are allowing you to sit up straight rather than sloshing around like a bowl of jello and your brain cells are allowing you to read this very sentence.2 Cells also make all of the necessary products for survival. Cells make hormones, oils (like sweat), saliva and more.2 

In summary, cells are a critical component of all forms of life. Cell biology is the study of the innermost workings of different cells and has led to a better understanding of many diseases. While cell biology has advanced throughout the years, there are still many unknowns in the field (like cancer- post coming soon!). With all of these unknowns, it is critical that cells continue to be studied so that we can continue to have a better understanding of human health and disease.

Thanks for reading and make sure to check back next week for the launch of our GENES introductory post! In the meantime, let us know if you have any questions, comments or feedback and don’t forget to follow/ like us!

PS: Make sure to check out our new page with updates on Coronavirus!

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Written by Megan
Illustrated by Rhea

Disclaimer: The opinions in this post are our opinions and in no way reflect the opinions of our mentors or The Medical University of South Carolina.

1. https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/basics/cell
2. https://www.nigms.nih.gov/education/Booklets/Inside-the-Cell/Documents/Booklet-Inside-the-Cell.pdf

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