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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 25, No. 3. 1962.


The study of the living cell is so complex that when it began to develop as an independent research area it soon sub-divided. Each of the separate divisions investigated a narrow aspect—structure or chemistry or morphology. But the cell is a self-contained entity, and researchers found that not only must all these biological sub-divisions be linked, but that other sciences—chemistry and physics—must be called on for their contributions. In one laboratory the cell is subjected to extremes of cold and heat, in another to ultraviolet rays. In the basement, behind thick concrete walls, it is exposed to powerful X-rays. It is simulated with electric current, whirled in high-speed centrifuges, poisoned, dismembered.

One researcher specialises in transplanting the nuclei of amoebae. This must be done to deter mine the relative importance of the nucleus and the cytoplasm in the life of the cell. The transfer is done with a micro-manipulator attached to the microscope. At the operating end of the manipulator are a minute loop and glass pin. The amoeba is driven into the loop and then with the pin the nucleus of one amoeba is carefully transferred to another. The operation takes the utmost delicacy and look a year to perfect.

At the turn of the century, re searchers noticed mat a cell subjected to the light of a mercury lamp radiates a barely perceptible violet glow. This phosphorescence was so weak and varied so little from living to dead matter that scientists did not see the possibilities it offered for peering into me cell until it was suggested that the faint violet glow was actually part or a much stronger radiation in the invisible spectrum, readily detectable on a photographic plate.

A group of biologists made a series of experiments with a Specially designed and built microscope and made an important discovery—that the brilliance of the phosphorescence is determined by the condition of the cell. It is the cell signalling, so to speak, how it feels.

Now comes the problem of reading these signals, a very difficult job, but it has been found that the phosphorescence of blood corpuscles differs in a healthy and an ailing body. The blood cells of an irradiated animal emit a specific phosphorescence. Thus, synthetic cytology in which biologists co-operate with physicists, is beginning to uncover another secret of the cell.