The cell forms the basis of all living organisms, and is the building-block of life. The first biological use of the word ‘cell’ is found in Robert Hooke’s Micrographia, published in 1665. The book was a pioneering scientific ‘best-seller,’ and inspired wide interest in the new science of microscopy. Hooke was one of the most gifted and original experimental scientists of his or any other time, and he left an intellectual inheritance that future scientists in Oxford would build upon.
The genetic material (DNA) that controls human and animal characters is contained in the nucleus of the cell. In 2012 John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka shared the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their respective research which showed that specialised cell types could be taken back to earlier stages of development. In 1962 John Gurdon showed that a nucleus taken from the gut of a swimming tadpole could replace the nucleus of the egg, and fulfil all its genetic functions. The nucleus had become like the egg nucleus and capable of supporting the development of a wide variety of other cell types, such as muscle and nerve. This demonstration of nuclear flexibility inspired the current interest in regenerative medicine.