Cell versus protoplasm: revisionist history


  • G. Rickey Welch,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biological Sciences and Department of History, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Baltimore, MD 21250, U.S.A.
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    • Present address: Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 3RH, U.K.

  • James S. Clegg

    1. Bodega Marine Laboratory and Section of Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of California, Davis, Bodega Bay, CA 94923, U.S.A.
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To whom correspondence should be addressed (email grw37@cam.ac.uk)


Recent investigations give reason to question anew the historical status of the ‘cell theory’ as the ultimate driving force in the development of our understanding of life's processes at the most fundamental level. A revisitation of critical research papers and commentaries from the 19th Century shows that the disregarded (and historically maligned) ‘protoplasmic theory of life’ played a more deterministic role in the early advancement of knowledge on cell structure and function.