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Model Protocell (Image 1)

July 20, 2010
A three-dimensional view of a model protocell (a primitive cell) approximately 100 nanometers in diameter. The protocell's fatty acid membrane allows nutrients and DNA building blocks to enter the cell and participate in non-enzymatic copying of the cell's DNA. The newly formed strands of DNA remain in the protocell.

The primitive cell, modeled by a team of researchers at Harvard University, is capable of building, copying and containing DNA, and will give scientists the opportunity to study how the Earth's earliest cells may have interacted with their environment approximately 3.5 billion years ago.

Since there are no physical records of what the first primitive cells on Earth looked like, or how they grew and divided, the Harvard team's protocell project offers researchers a useful way to learn about how Earth's earliest cells may have interacted with their environment approximately 3.5 billion years ago.

The research was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation's Division of Chemistry (CHE 04-34507). To learn more about the discovery, see the NSF press release "A New Way to Think About Earth's First Cells."

Note: Before using this image, please read the "Special Restrictions" regarding its use, at bottom of page. (Date of Image: 2008) [Image 1 of 2 related images. See Image 2.]


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