In biology, cell theory is the historic scientific theory, now universally accepted, that living organisms are made up of cells, that they are the basic structural/organizational unit of all organisms, and that all cells come from pre-existing cells. Cells are the basic unit of structure in all organisms and also the basic unit of reproduction. With continual improvements made to microscopes over time, magnification technology advanced enough to discover cells in the 17th century. This discovery is largely attributed to Robert Hooke, and began the scientific study of cells, also known as cell biology. Over a century later, many debates about cells began amongst scientists. Most of these debates involved the nature of cellular regeneration, and the idea of cells as a fundamental unit of life. Cell theory was eventually formulated in 1839. This is usually credited to Matthias Schleiden and Theodor Schwann. However, many other scientists like Rudolf Virchow contributed to the theory. It was an important step in the movement away from spontaneous generation.
The three tenets to the cell theory are as described below:
The discovery of the cell was made possible through the invention of the microscope. In the first century BC, Romans were able to make glass, discovering that objects appeared to be larger under the glass. In Italy during the 12th century, Salvino D’Armate made a piece of glass fit over one eye, allowing for a magnification effect to that eye. The expanded use of lenses in eyeglasses in the 13th century probably led to wider spread use of simple microscopes (magnifying glasses) with limited magnification. Compound microscope, which combine an objective lens with an eyepiece to view a real image achieving much higher magnification, first appeared in Europe around 1620 In 1665, Robert Hooke used a microscope about six inches long with two convex lenses inside and examined specimens under reflected light for the observations in his book Micrographia. Hooke also used a simpler microscope with a single lens for examining specimens with directly transmitted light, because this allowed for a clearer image.
Extensive microscopic study was done by Anton van Leeuwenhoek, a draper who took the interest in microscopes after seeing one while on an apprenticeship in Amsterdam in 1648. At some point in his life before 1668, he was able to learn how to grind lenses. This eventually led to Leeuwenhoek making his own unique microscope. His were a single lens simple microscope, rather than a compound microscope. This was because he was able to use a single lens that was a small glass sphere but allowed for a magnification of 270x. This was a large progression since the magnification before was only a maximum of 50x. After Leeuwenhoek, there was not much progress for the microscopes until the 1850s, two hundred years later. Carl Zeiss, a German engineer who manufactured microscopes, began to make changes to the lenses used. But the optical quality did not improve until the 1880s when he hired Otto Schott and eventually Ernst Abbe.
Optical microscopes can focus on objects the size of a wavelength or larger, giving restrictions still to advancement in discoveries with objects smaller than the wavelengths of visible light. Later in the 1920s, the electron microscope was developed, making it possible to view objects that are smaller than optical wavelengths, once again, changing the possibilities in science.
The cell was first discovered by Robert Hooke in 1665, which can be found to be described in his book Micrographia. In this book, he gave 60 ‘observations’ in detail of various objects under a coarse, compound microscope. One observation was from very thin slices of bottle cork. Hooke discovered a multitude of tiny pores that he named "cells". This came from the Latin word Cella, meaning ‘a small room’ like monks lived in and also Cellulae, which meant the six sided cell of a honeycomb. However, Hooke did not know their real structure or function. What Hooke had thought were cells, were actually empty cell walls of plant tissues. With microscopes during this time having a low magnification, Hooke was unable to see that there were other internal components to the cells he was observing. Therefore, he did not think the "cellulae" were alive. His cell observations gave no indication of the nucleus and other organelles found in most living cells. In Micrographia, Hooke also observed mould, bluish in color, found on leather. After studying it under his microscope, he was unable to observe “seeds” that would have indicated how the mould was multiplying in quantity. This led to Hooke suggesting that spontaneous generation, from either natural or artificial heat, was the cause. Since this was an old Aristotelian theory still accepted at the time, others did not reject it and was not disproved until Leeuwenhoek later discovers generation is achieved otherwise.