The structural and functional organisation of cells
Albert Claude, George E. Palade and Christian De Duve were awarded the 1974 Nobel prize of Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries on the structural organisation of cells. Their work is now regarded as the beginning of the field of cell biology.
Even though the electron microscope had been developed in the late 1930s and had the resolution of single molecules, it was not possible to observe the inner structure of the cells. This was because the cells could not be obtained in a suitable manner for the microscope. Albert Claude worked to prepare animal cells by centrifugation so that they could be observed more clearly. In 1945, he published images of cells and revealed the inner structure of the compartments within, most notably the endoplasmic reticulum.
Palade, who worked in Claude’s laboratory, improved upon the centrifugation technique and went on to discover the ribosomes, the small compartments within the cell that synthesise proteins. In addition, he further refined the fine structure of the mitochondria and endoplasmic reticulum. From this he studied the guinea pig pancreas to understand how it secretes proteins such as insulin.
De Duve’s work began by studying the body’s use of insulin and glucagon in storing and retrieving glucose in the body. After meeting with Claude in 1947, De Duve began to use the centrifugation and microscopy techniques to study these on a sub-cellular level. By focussing on proteins, he discovered that glucose-6-phosphotase was associated the cell fraction that contained the endoplasmic reticulum discovered by Claude. This provided evidence that the different components of the cell had their own individual mixtures of proteins. By applying this approach, he discovered another cellular compartment that contained several digestive enzymes. This was termed the lysosome, which is responsible for destroying proteins in the cell.