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A CELL IS NOTAN ISLAND ENTIRE OF ITSELF* PAUL A. WEISSE John Donne's "No man is an island, entire of itselt" removes man from his self-arrogated station of insularity. It admonishes the individual to view himselfas but a nodal point in a cohesive mesh ofinterrelations and interdependencies which integrate mankind with the web of nature. The time has come to be reminded that the cellular elements ofman likewise do not live in the state ofsovereign autonomy and, indeed, autocracy that is alluded to in such common references to spontaneity as "the cell does," "the cell acts," "the cell controls," envisaging Lilliputian homunculi endowed with powers ofwill, decision, and authority. Modern man has awakened to the realization that he and his environment form an indissociable continuum. Accordingly, submitting,as I do [2],that thescience ofeach age reflects the temper ofthe times, one should expect the cell likewise to be lifted from its insular autocratic niche and viewed as but a part of a continuum ofwhich its whole environment—that is, its physical and chemical milieu as well as all the other living cells in it—is constituted offellow members. This change of view is actually coming about. I shall devote my lecture to its factual documentation. But I shall dedicate my lecture, above all, to the spirit exemplified by the man to whom it pays tribute, Sir Edward Kennaway (plate 1): the spirit ofsteadfastly, systematically, and unpretentiously hewing one's way through the vast thicket ofthe unknown toward a distant envisaged goal, knowing full well that one may never reach it but only approximate it. Goals have a tantalizing way ofreceding as one proceeds. Yet, they give guidance. The chemical control ofcancer has long been such a goal. The * Third Sir Edward Kennaway Memorial Lecture given at the Royal Institution, London, October 1969. For a more detailed discussion and documentation ofthe experiments and conclusions, see [i]. t The Rockefeller University, New York, New York 10021. The investigations have been variously supported by the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute of the U.S Public Health Service, and the Faith Foundation ofHouston, Texas. 182 Paul A. Weiss · A Cell Is Not an Island Perspectives in Biology and Medicine · Winter 1971 Plate i.—Sir Edward Kennaway (courtesy ofDr. Charles B. Huggins) B Plate 2 Plate 3 pioneering steps towardthat goal byKennaway are too wellknown for me to rhapsodize about. But one need only look at the amplification and diversification of his work in many laboratories across the globe and epitomized by his legacy, the Chester Beatty Cancer Research Institute under his eminent successor Sir Alexander Haddow and his able staff, to recognize thathuman tasks are notpunctuated episodes but run on uninterruptedly from the past into the future—each of our contributions but a point on a time line, a thread in an endless fabric being woven. Looking back, we appreciate the progress made. Yet, however proud we may feel in retrospect of our past advances, we stand in awe when contemplating the enormous distances still ahead. In this spirit ofhumble recognition ofhow much there is that we know we do not know, which has motivated men like Kennaway to do their probings, my presentation will become rather a profession ofthe vastness ofour ignorance than a eulogy ofour past achievements. I shall confine myselfto the cells ofhigher animals. Their exploration used to be dominated by the microscopic study offixed and stained tissue specimens. Cells were distinguished by the visual appearance oftheir embalmed mummies, which contributed neither less nor more to the understanding ofthe living cell than does the study ofthe ruins ofan ancient city tell of the life of its people. Life is process in time. No static image can reflect that time dimension. Microscopic anatomy thus tended to freeze our concepts ofthe cell: the cell's incessant variation in response to a continuously changing environment escaped attention. Knowledge was hemmed in by limitations oftechnique. In order to enlarge the scope and content ofour knowledge, we must rely on the technical advances. The merger oftwo such technical developments has now added to the old static picture ofthe cell the missing time dimension: (i) the method of Plate z.—Schematic diagram, showing...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 182-206
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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