At the turn of the twentieth century, the German cytologist Oscar Hertwig (a pioneer in the study of fertilization and the role of chromosomes in heredity) described the cell as both “a marvellously complicated organism” and “a small universe into the construction of which we can only laboriously penetrate by means of microscopical, chemico-physical and experimental methods of inquiry.”1 Hertwig, I suspect, would not have been surprised by the “molecular turn” taken by biology in the mid-twentieth century, nor that it revealed both a great deal of order and organization within the cell (think the genetic code, the central dogma, the cell cycle), and that it would amplify our appreciation of the cell’s complexity.

For various reasons historical study of the development of cytology into cell and molecular biology has been dominantly focused on molecular genetics and understanding of the structure and function of DNA. Whereas cytology and cellular...

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