Unanticipated Trends Stemming from Initial Events in the History of Cell Culture: Vitalism in 2013?

  • Carlos Sonnenschein
  • David Lee
  • Jonathan Nguyen
  • Ana M. Soto
Part of the History, Philosophy and Theory of the Life Sciences book series (HPTL, volume 2)


During the period 1907–1912, tissue culture pioneers developed the basic techniques that, with modifications, have been adopted by experimental biologists worldwide to resolve a variety of scientific and technological questions. Because their immediate pragmatic concern was the “growth” of the cells, these pioneers may have inadvertently ignored the theoretical underpinnings of why those cells grew in the artificial conditions they imposed on them. By theoretical underpinnings we mean what premises they adopted to interpret the fact that cells grew outside the organism from where they were explanted, i.e., did they favor proliferation or quiescence as their default state? Here, we argue that the premises adopted and the interpretation of the data they collected introduced important misconceptions that still remain in place. The crucial one has been the notion that quiescence, instead of proliferation, is the default state of cells in metazoan. Later on, this notion led to the claim that there were “signals,” so-called growth factors, that would stimulate those passively quiescent cells to undergo proliferation. Additionally, the notion that quiescence as the default state of cells in metazoa is inimical to evolutionary theory because it implies the intervention of some external, undefined entity that instruct cells to enter their cycle of reproduction. Probably unintentionally, this mistaken conclusion carrying a specific command may be considered as the core of a sort of a naïve physicalism that hinders the understanding of biological organization.


Default state Emergence Growth factors Proliferation Tissue culture Senescence 



 This work was supported by grants from the Parsemus Foundation and the NIH (ES0150182, ES012301 and ES08314). We are grateful to Cheryl Schaeberle and Michael Askenase for their excellent editorial assistance.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carlos Sonnenschein
    • 1
  • David Lee
    • 1
  • Jonathan Nguyen
    • 1
  • Ana M. Soto
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Anatomy and Cellular BiologyTufts University School of MedicineBostonUSA

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