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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 developments, 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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Science Highlights

Cells covered with cilia (red strands) on the surface of frog embryos.CLAMP Helps Lung Cells Pull Together
Many lung cells are covered with hair-like projections called cilia that work together to sweep out mucous. But the cells need to be oriented the same way for this collective action work. Scientists recently identified a molecule called CLAMP that helps the cells line up in the same way.

pericytes cells (red) stretch along capillaries (blue) in a mouse brainPericytes: Capillary Guardians in the Brain
A meshwork of cells called pericytes covers (and protects) the capillary network in the brain. Scientists are trying to figure out how to restore pericytes when the brain suffers strokes and other injuries.

human cells dyed red and greenHave Nucleus, Will Travel (in Three Dimensions)
Scientists have known that most cells can slide across microscope slides with relative ease, but traversing a 3D environment requires an intact nucleus.

A lion roaringCarole LaBonne: Neural Crest Cells and the Rise of the Vertebrates
In a video interview, molecular biologist Carole LaBonne describes how powerful cells called neural crest cells shaped the evolution of vertebrate animals.

Zombie AntWhat Zombie Ants Are Teaching Us About Fungal Infections
Entomologists David Hughes and Maridel Fredericksen use sophisticated image-processing techniques to learn how a fungus infects ants and controls their behavior.

piliFeeling Out Bacteriaís Sense of Touch
Scientists have learned how bacteria use their sense of touch to initiate infection and trigger the formation of harmful biofilms.

A diagram of a cellThe Changing Needs of a Cell: No Membrane? No Problem!
While the vast majority of organelles in a cell are insulated by membranes, scientists are finding more and more membrane-less organelles that form as liquid droplets nested inside of each other.

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Profiles: Meet a Scientist

Gautam DantasThe Irresistible Resistome: How Infant Diapers Might Help Combat Antibiotic Resistance (sort of)
Biochemist Gautam Dantas studies whatís deposited on infant diapers for clues about antibiotic resistance.

Cell Day 2016Get Your Cell Biology Questions Ready For Cell Day
Join NIGMS scientists on November 3 for Cell Day 2016, an opportunity for middle and high school students to ask experts about cell biology, biochemistry, research careers and more.

Rebecca HealdThe Science of Size: Rebecca Heald Explores Size Control in Amphibians
Cell biologist Rebecca Heald studies the factors that determine an animalís size.

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Audio and Video

Protesosome. Credit: Andreas Martin, University of California, BerkeleyThe Proteasome: The Cellís Trash Processor in Action
Our cells are constantly removing and recycling molecular waste. This video shows one way cells process their trash.

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.

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Cool Image: Biological Bubbles
Cells occasionally pinch off parts of their membranes to produce bubbles filled with proteins and lipids. These bubbles may aid in cell-to-cell communication. Researchers are trying to harness this process to develop better drug delivery techniques.

Beauty is in the Eye
Celebrate Healthy Vision Month with these four stunning images of the eye.

Actinís Many Roles
The protein (actin) that binds these two skin cancer cells together also plays a number of roles in cancerís invasion into new tissues in the body.

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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 February 22, 2018