Cell-Formations and their Work

by Robert Benchley

from Pluck and Luck

It is only recently that science has found out the exact structure of the tiny cell-formations which go to make up life. Only yesterday, in fact.

Every higher animal starts life as a single cell. This much is obvious Look at the rainbow. Look at the formation of frost on the window-pane. Don't look now. Wait a minute. . . Now look.

This cell measures no more than 1/125 of an inch in diameter at first, but you mustn't be discouraged. It looks like nothing at all, even under the strongest microscope, and, before we knew just how important they were, they were often thrown away. We now know that if it were not for these tiny, tiny cells, we should none of us be here today. This may or may not be a recommendation for the cells. Quien sabe?

Shortly after the cell decides to go ahead with the thing, it gets lonely and divides itself up into three simliar cells, just for company's sake and to have someone to talk to. They soon find out that they aren't particularly congenial, so they keep on dividing themselves up into other cells until there is a regular mob of them. Then they elect an entertainment committee and give a show.

After the show, there is a fight, and the thing breaks up into different cliques or gropus. One group thinks they are white corpuscles or phagocytes. Others go around saying that they are red corpuscles and to hell with the white.

The other groups of cells devote themselves to music, aesthetic dancing, and the formation of starch which goes into dress-shirts. They are all very happy and very busy, and it's nobody's business what they do when they aren't working. We certainly are not going to snoop into that here.

We must take up, however, the work of the brain-cells, as it is in the brain that the average man of today does his thinking. ( Aha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha !)

Oh, let's not take up the brain-cells. You know as much about them as anybody does, and what's the use anyway? Suppose you do learn something today. You're likely to die tomorrow, and there you are.

And we must go into the question of the size of these cells. That really is important. In about 1/150000 of a cubic inch of blood there are some five million cells afloat. This is, as you will see, about the population of the City of London, except that the cells don't wear any hats. Thus in our whole body, there are perhaps (six times seven is forty-two, five times eight is forty, put down naught and carry your four, eight times nine is seventy-two and four is seventy-six, put down six and carry your seven and then, adding, six, four, three, one, six, naught, naught, naught, naught), oh, about a billion or so of these red corpuscles alone, not counting overhead and breakage. In the course of time, that runs into figures.

[ graphic goes here ]
[caption: Differentiantion of cells in the lens of an eye. Doesn't mean a thing. ]

Now when it comes to reproduction, you have to look out. In the cuttlefish, for example, there is what is know as "greesion" or budding. The organism as a whole remains unaltered, except that one small portion of it breaks off and goes into business for itself. This, of course, makes a very pretty picture, but gets nowhere. In the case of multi-cellular animals, like the orange, it results in a frightful confusion.

We should have said that there are two classes of animals, unicellular and multicellular. From the unicellular group we get our coal, iron, wheat and ice, and from the multicellular our salt, pepper chutney and that beautiful silk dress which milady wears so proudly. Woolen and leather goods we import.

You will see then that by grafting a piece of one species on another species, you can mix the cells and have all kinds of fun. Winkler, in 1902, grafted a piece of Solanum (the genus to which the potato belongs) onto a stock of another kind, and then, after the union had been established, cut the stem across, just at the point of junction. The bud was formed of the intermingled tissues of the two species and was most peculiar.

Winkler was arrested.