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Cancer Cell death Cell cycle Cytoskeleton Exo/endocytosis Differentiation Division Organelles Signalling Stem cells Trafficking
Cell Biology International (2012) 36, 643–647 (Printed in Great Britain)
Review article
Cell versus protoplasm: revisionist history
G. Rickey Welch* and James S. Clegg†
*Department of Biological Sciences and Department of History, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Baltimore, MD 21250, U.S.A., and †Bodega Marine Laboratory and Section of Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of California, Davis, Bodega Bay, CA 94923, U.S.A.

Recent investigations give reason to question anew the historical status of the ‘cell theory’ as the ultimate driving force in the development of our understanding of life's processes at the most fundamental level. A revisitation of critical research papers and commentaries from the 19th Century shows that the disregarded (and historically maligned) ‘protoplasmic theory of life’ played a more deterministic role in the early advancement of knowledge on cell structure and function.

Key words: cell theory, E.B. Wilson, protoplasmic theory, T.H. Huxley

1Present address: Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 3RH, U.K.

2To whom correspondence should be addressed (email

Received 3 March 2012; accepted 5 April 2012

Published online 8 June 2012, doi:10.1042/CBI20120128

© The Author(s) Journal compilation © 2012 International Federation for Cell Biology

ISSN Print: 1065-6995
ISSN Electronic: 1095-8355
Published by Portland Press Limited on behalf of the International Federation for Cell Biology (IFCB)