Today’s scientific understanding of cellular complexity and dynamism rests on the work of many thousands of scientists over the last century and a half. Modern researchers have fused concepts and experimental techniques drawn from biochemistry, genetics, and molecular biology with those from classical cell biology to produce a dynamic conception of cellular life. In the chapters that follow, we will flesh out this introductory overview of the cell, drawing on insights from all the subdisciplines that contribute to the hybrid science of molecular cell biology.
Our knowledge of cell structure and function at any point in time is only as good as the tools available for investigation; as those tools become more effective, old concepts are sometimes totally reformulated. For this reason, our presentation will be anchored on the experimental foundations supporting various concepts. We hope this approach will encourage the reader to appreciate biology as a living science, one in which changing knowledge continually generates fresh perspectives and fresh opportunities for productive impacts on our society.
In the next ten years, a new view of biology will emerge as the massive endeavor currently under way to sequence the human genome is completed. Knowledge of the sequences of the roughly 100,000 genes in human DNA will add a whole new dimension to biological study, assisting in the even more difficult task of determining the functions of all the genes and bringing further insight about the interplay of genes in the development and differentiation of organisms. Perhaps the major challenge facing cell biologists in the twenty-first century will be to analyze the molecular basis of integrated functions in whole organisms, including learning, behavior, and aging. Astonishing as it may seem, today’s young researchers may well achieve the goal stated in 1973 by Francois Jacob in The Logic of Life: “to interpret the properties of the organism by the structure of its constituent molecules.”