7 Characteristics of cell biology

The Cell Theory attributes to the cell the role of the fundamental unit of life and constitutes one of the main pillars of biology. But the cell was not in the ideology of the human being until a series of scholars in the 17th century carried out research work on it.

These men were unknowingly creating a new discipline of biology that is today one of the most prolific and important and is known as cellular biology. If you found this interesting and want to know more, we invite you to read this article about what cell biology is, its applications and importance .

What is cell biology and what does it study?

Cellular biology is a scientific discipline that belongs to biology and whose object of study is what is considered the elemental unit of life , that is, the cell itself, as well as its exchanges of energy and matter with its environment, their intra and intercellular communication systems.

In other words, cell biology studies the nature and behavior of cells . It is also known as cytology , although it is an increasingly obsolete term, but it is worth knowing because it is frequently found in health articles.

It includes both the study of eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells , since both types share the same level of cellular organization. Some of the most frequent topics of study are cellular regulation, the structures that make up cells, their signaling systems, their life cycle and their development.

Associated with cell biology are laboratory techniques, methodologies and instrumentation common to other disciplines such as, for example, cell staining, immunocytochemical techniques, use of microscopes, etc.

Characteristics of cell biology

Cell biology is a branch of biology that focuses on the study of cells, which are the fundamental units of life. Here are some key characteristics of cell biology:

  1. Cell Structure: Cell biology involves the study of the structure and organization of cells. This includes understanding the different components of a cell, such as the plasma membrane, nucleus, cytoplasm, organelles, and the cytoskeleton. Cell biologists investigate the functions and interactions of these structures to understand how cells work.
  2. Cell Function: Cell biology explores the various functions that cells perform. Cells carry out essential processes, such as metabolism, growth, reproduction, and responding to stimuli. By studying cell function, scientists gain insights into how cells maintain homeostasis, communicate with each other, and carry out specialized tasks.
  3. Cell Communication: Cells communicate with each other through various mechanisms. Cell biologists study cell signaling, which involves the transmission of signals between cells to coordinate their activities. This includes understanding how cells receive, interpret, and respond to signals, such as hormones, neurotransmitters, and growth factors.
  4. Cell Division: Cell biology includes the study of cell division, which is the process by which cells reproduce. This encompasses both mitosis, which results in the production of two genetically identical daughter cells, and meiosis, which produces cells with half the number of chromosomes for sexual reproduction. Cell division plays a crucial role in growth, development, and tissue regeneration.
  5. Cell Differentiation: Cells can differentiate into specialized cell types with distinct structures and functions. Cell biology investigates the processes that drive cell differentiation, such as gene expression, epigenetics, and environmental cues. Understanding cell differentiation is important for developmental biology, tissue engineering, and regenerative medicine.
  6. Cell Cycle: The cell cycle is the series of events that cells go through as they grow and divide. Cell biologists study the regulation of the cell cycle, including the checkpoints and molecular mechanisms that control cell progression. Dysregulation of the cell cycle can lead to diseases like cancer.
  7. Cell Interactions: Cells interact with each other and their environment. Cell biology examines how cells adhere to each other and to extracellular matrix components. It also explores how cells migrate, interact with immune cells, and form tissues and organs.

In summary, cell biology encompasses the study of cell structure, function, communication, division, differentiation, the cell cycle, and cell interactions. Understanding these characteristics is crucial for advancing our knowledge of biological processes, disease mechanisms, and developing treatments and therapies.

Applications of cell biology and its importance

Because cellular biology focuses on cells and they are present in all living beings , its area of ​​study is very broad, making its applications very diverse. Applications of cell biology can be found in such important fields as medicine, the food industry and the environment, biotechnology and pest control, among others. Next, we will learn some examples of these applications:


Today it is known that when a cell loses the ability to evaluate the space in its immediate environment, it suffers an alteration in its life cycle that leads it to grow and divide uncontrollably, generating large cell masses that are known as tumors. These tumors are what give rise to the disease of cancer and thanks to the contributions of cell biology, it has been possible to develop treatments to control and contain some of these tumor cells.

Food industry and environment

Obtaining varieties of plants that can grow in adverse conditions, with less water or generate larger products is an objective continually pursued in the food industry. Based on the knowledge provided by cell biology, it has been possible to obtain varieties that have these characteristics, giving rise to more efficient or less expensive crops in many cases, some of which go through the cultivation of transgenics developed thanks to cell biology.


The development of personalized therapies, vaccines for new health threats and obtaining byproducts of interest is closely related to the knowledge of the cells involved in these processes and, therefore, with cell biology. Following the study of a pathogenic bacteria and the role of our cells in the human immune system, new vaccines can be created to combat its infection. On the other hand, detailed knowledge of the microorganisms that carry out lactic or alcoholic fermentation makes it possible to launch industries responsible for obtaining goods such as alcoholic beverages or products derived from milk.

pest control

Both in the control of bacterial pests and in the control of arthropod pests (generally insects), host organisms are used whose cells have developed a defense against these pathogens, either naturally or through manipulation. In this way, a reduction in the use of pesticides can be achieved, in addition to more environmentally responsible production.

As can be extracted from all this, cell biology has great relevance for human beings . Thanks to it , entire industries have been developed , as well as techniques to frequently update and improve them.

Through its study, humans are capable of growing increasingly efficient and specialized crops, giving the possibility of generating food for the world population in a more sustainable and clean way. In addition, it allows us to delve into the knowledge of the animal immune system , which is perhaps one of the most important contributions covering medicine and veterinary medicine, so relevant to global well-being. Treatments for cancer, sexually transmitted diseases, genetic disorders, degenerative diseases, diseases of the nervous system, allergic disorders and intolerances are just some of the many examples of contributions that cell biology has made, and will continue to make, to the medical field.

Great milestones in cell biology

Cell biology does not arise at a specific moment in history, but is created progressively through the contributions of different scholars until it acquires the character of a science. This is why the first milestone, the birth of the discipline, is not usually located on a specific date and is associated with the scientific revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries .

Anton van Leeuwenhoek , who first rigorously studied the cell using simple microscopes, is generally considered to be one of the main precursors of this discipline along with Robert Hooke , who separately was an early observer of cells and responsible for to name them. Likewise, Marcello Malpighi was one of those responsible for popularizing the study of cells and establishing the idea that biological tissues are composed of them.

Once the birth of cell biology has been attended to, the following events can be highlighted:

  • Publication of the postulates of the Cell Theory: in 1838 Matthias Schleiden and Theodor Schwann announced what would be one of the pillars of biology and around which cell biology orbits.
  • Study and description of organelles: in the 1850s, the discovery and detailed description of many of the organelles of eukaryotic cells that we know today were carried out, such as mitochondria, chloroplasts and the nucleus.
  • Theory of inheritance and mutation: between the 1880s and 1900s there was an important proliferation of knowledge about the genetics of the cell. August Weissmann developed the first theory of inheritance that talks about gametes, while mutations are located in the focus of the study of cell biology thanks to the rediscovery of Mendel’s work by Hugo de Vries.
  • Great development of molecular biology: as a discipline within cellular biology, it contributed during the 1940s and 1950s to numerous advances in the knowledge of the components of the cell, the most notable being the discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick.
  • Endosymbiosis theory: already in 1970, the prolificabiologist Lynn Margulis published her theory, which is widely accepted and determined that cellular organelles originated from the internalization of prokaryotic cells into eukaryotic cells, giving rise to a phenomenon of endosymbiosis.
  • Already in the 21st century, the main discoveries focus on developmental biology, which has applications in medicine related to limbs with malformation problems, tissue synthesis, cell regeneration, organ transplants from animals to humans and synthesis of whole organs. .

Differences between cellular and molecular biology

When talking about molecular biology , an important clarification must be made. Since it is a subdiscipline of cell biology , both are closely related, but also clearly differentiated in terms of the subject of study.

While in cellular biology the object of study is the cell, as well as its functions and relationships, molecular biology focuses on its organic and inorganic components, being able to study them in their context, in which they are part of the organic process of life, or in isolation with a purely physical-chemical and structural perspective.

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