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Organisms as societies

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In the 19th century, biologists came to appreciate for the first time the fundamentality of the cell to all life on Earth. One of the early pioneers of cell biology, Rudolf Virchow, realized that the discovery of this cell brought with it a new way of seeing the organism. In an 1859 essay he described the organism as a ‘cell state’, or Zellenstaat, a ”society of cells, a tiny, well-ordered state, with all of the accessories—high officials and underlings, servants and masters, the great and the small.” In the 20th century, the ‘cell state’ metaphor fell out of favour in biology, but three recent trends in biology suggest it is due a revival. Firstly, there is our growing awareness of cooperation among microorganisms. Some social behaviours in microbes, such as the formation of fruiting bodies in social amoebas, result in phenomena that resemble simple multicellular organisms. Some authors have even suggested that bacterial biofilms should be regarded as organisms in their own. . .

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News source: OUPblog » Philosophy

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