Life: What We’re Made of Part 1 (The Cell)

This bit has taken a lot of doing so I’ve decided to split it up over a few posts.

I’ve said so far that the world is made of atoms (and I expect to say at some point what atoms are made of) as are all things living. Yet this only explains so much. Atoms are nice as building blocks, but they don’t just randomly create life, they have to be expertly controlled. So to make life, atoms need to be controlled and this role is filled by much bigger molecules.

That’s not all though. Molecules are like the big muscled dumb guy you get in superhero and gangster movies, they can make an atom do what they want but first they need someone to tell them what that is. So telling the molecule what to do is the most important thing (probably) that ever appeared on this planet: the Cell.

The Cell is an incredibly complex and intricate piece of machinery, so much so that we still don’t understand a lot of what happens inside of it. What makes it so important though is that all life started with a single Cell. What does this mythical thing look like? Anyone who stopped doing Biology at GCSE level might remember it looking like this:

Behold the Amazing Cell

Here we are shown the Nucleus which controls the Cell (it does this with DNA which will be explained in a later post) and the Cell Membrane which acts as a wall to stop things moving in and out of the Cell. These are not the only things in the Cell, in fact there are lots of other structures in the cell and each with its own purpose (if you think about it a wall and something that controls it aren’t going to add up to much). So a more complete picture would look something like this:

Now the Cell is getting a little more packed out. I won’t go through all of the different parts in detail, but I can say that the mitochondria create energy, allowing the Cell to perform actions, the Lysosomes contain enzymes (some Lysosomes can contain acids) which are for digestion whereas the R.E.R. the S.E.R. and Golgi Apparatus are all concerned with making proteins and other products. If we lacked any of these things, we would be dead. If any of them didn’t work quite as well as they should, we would very be seriously disabled.

So there is quite a lot inside of the Cell and it’s not easy to list them all every time they are mentioned (nor is it good to say ‘them’ all the time) so scientists have classified them all as: ‘Organelles‘. This relatively loose definition states that anything enclosed in a membrane within the Cell is an Organelle (yes that means that although the Cell has a membrane, a lot of the things inside of a Cell also have one).

What we have now is the all amazing Cell which is vital for life, but is filled with these Organelles which themselves seem to do a lot of things on their own. So why is the Cell more important you might ask? Well the difference in importance between a Cell which does something in the body, and an organelle which does something in the Cell is this: On it’s own a Cell can survive and function but if an Organelle is left out on its own, it will be useless. That is why the Cell is more important.

This still isn’t the complete picture though, there are many other types of organelles and in real life the Cell is literally packed full of them. This is a slightly more complicated (and artistic) image of a Cell:

Full of 'Stuff' Doesn't Even Begin to Describe it...

So what can we conclude from this:

  • Cells are essential for life and they all perform a function within the body.
  • Cells themselves are made up of Organelles perform their own tasks to keep the Cell alive.
  • Don’t forget that all of this is made of atoms, and is then used to control atoms and molecules to create life.
There’s not a whole lot to take away from this post. Those are really the main points I wanted to burn into your head. But before I finish up I want to show you this video. It shows what kind of stuff happens inside the Cell when you look at each organelle really close up.

Just so you know, all of this is happening inside of you right now. Video’s like that are in my opinion a good reason to become a Cell biologist.

Leave a comment


  1. I’ve thought of a living cell embodying all the complexity of a city, but that video makes it a bit more wonderful than that – maybe a city of the future!

    • Tell me about it. Scientists always talk about elegant equations and such, but I don’t think there’s much more intricate and elegant then the workings of a cell.

      My fave bit: 1.22-1.27 It’s Kinesin moving some kind of lysosome from one bit of a cell to the other, always reminded me of some odd stick person walking along a track. Which I think is oddly human.

  1. Life: “It’s all in the DNA’” | Science Defined
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