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Science Education: Cell Biology

A scanning electron microscope picture of a nerve ending. Credit:Tina Carvalho, University of Hawaii at Manoa.Understanding the structure and function of cells and their many parts, in health and in disease—that's cell biology. Studies in cell biology focus on questions like:

  • How do cells move, communicate, divide and ultimately die?
  • How are cellular components made and maintained?
  • What tools do we need to study cells up close and in real time?

Follow the links below to learn more about cell biology, including recent discoveries, and read profiles of researchers working in this field.


Cover image of Inside the CellInside the Cell
Explores the interior design of cells and vividly describes the processes that take place within cellular organelles and structures.

Cover image of The Structures of LifeThe Structures of Life
Reveals how understanding the shape of biological molecules involved in many cellular processes provides insight into health and disease.

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Classroom Poster

Seeing Cells PosterSeeing Cells Poster
Displays a variety of cell images and some basic facts about cells.

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Fact Sheet

A dividing cell. Credit: Jean Cook and Ted Salmon Labs, University of North Carolina School of MedicineStudying Cells
Trillions of cells make up our bodies, and researchers continue to learn more about their features and functions. Discover some recent advances.

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Research News

Screenshot from video that shows receptors staying in the region of the cell membrane that is closest to the netrin signal. Credit: David Sherwood, Duke University.Steering Cells Down the Right Path
Proteins on a cellís surface cluster and reassemble until they find the navigation signal that orients a cell before it migrates.

Fibroblasts. Credit: Dylan Burnette and Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health.Nobel Prize for Powerful Microscopy Technology
An NIGMS grantee is honored with a Nobel Prize for his role in developing super-resolution fluorescence microscopy, which lets researchers see and track individual molecules in living organisms in real time.

Assorted cheeses. Credit: Elia Ben-Ari. Say Cheese
Recreating cheese rind microbial communities in the lab could answer fundamental questions about the ecology of other microbial communities, including infection-causing biofilms.

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Human embryonic cells. Credit: Aryeh Warmflash, Rockefeller University.Stem Cells Do Geometry
Human embryonic stem cells confined to areas of precisely controlled size and shape start to specialize and form organized patterns, opening a new window for studying early development.

Mitochondria from the heart muscle cell of a rat. Credit: Thomas Deerinck, National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research.Mighty Mitochondria
Meet mitochondria: cellular compartments that are best known as the powerhouses that convert energy from the food we eat into energy that runs a range of biological processes.

skin cell The Fireworks Inside Us All
Here are just a few glimpses into cells captured by scientists in the course of their NIH-funded research.

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Profiles: Meet a Scientist

Marc ZimmerGreen Light
Chemist Marc Zimmer studies protein molecules that make animals glow in the dark—and help scientists study their cells.

Peggy GoodellMastering Stem Cells
Researcher Peggy Goodell pursues the properties and uses of stem cells.

Andres GarciaThe Forces That Bind
Engineer Andrés García studies cell stickiness to create new biomaterials that can heal bones and other body tissues.

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Audio and Video

A microtubule, part of the cell's skeleton, builds and deconstructs. Credit: Eva Nogales lab, University of California, Berkeley.Cool Video: How a Microtubule Builds and Deconstructs
In a process critical for many biological activities, tubulin proteins snap into place to build a microtubule, part of the cell's skeleton, which then falls to pieces from its top end.

Credit: Huey Huang, Rice University. Cool Video: How Bee Venom Toxin Kills Cells
A new video that shows how a toxin destroys an animal or bacterial cell might help scientists design new drugs to combat bacterial infections.

CiliaCool Video: How Cilia Do the Wave
Thin, hairlike biological structures called cilia are tiny but mighty. Working together, cilia play essential roles in human health, such as sweeping debris from the lungs.

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Stem cells transform into neurons. Credit: Kiessling Lab, University of Wisconsin-Madison.Cool Image: Of Surfaces and Stem Cells
The green threads shown here are neurons that have just formed from unspecialized cells called stem cells.

A healthy cell that has ingested dying cells. Credit: Toru Komatsu/University of Tokyo.Cool Image: Training Cells to Devour Dying Neighbors
A healthy cell has engulfed a number of dying cells just as a predator might ingest wounded or dying prey.

Mouse optic nerve and retina. Credit: Keunyoung Kim, Thomas Deerinck and Mark Ellisman, National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research, UC San Diego.Cool Image: Outsourcing Cellular Housekeeping
Neurons in the mouse optic nerve pass some of their worn out mitochondria to neighboring brain cells for recycling.

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Quizzes and Puzzles

Cells Professor Cartoon Test Your Science IQ! Game: Cells
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Inside the Cell puzzle Inside the Cell Crossword Puzzle | Accessible Version

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This page last reviewed on October 31, 2014