David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 41 (3):183-193 (2010)
The term ‘cell’, in addition to designating fundamental units of life, has also been applied since the nineteenth century to technical apparatuses such as fuel and galvanic cells. This paper shows that such technologies, based on the electrical effects of chemical reactions taking place in containers, had a far-reaching impact on the concept of the biological cell. My argument revolves around the controversy over oxidative phosphorylation in bioenergetics between 1961 and 1977. In this scientific conflict, a two-level mingling of technological culture, physical chemistry and biological research can be observed. First, Peter Mitchell explained the chemiosmotic hypothesis of energy generation by representing cellular membrane processes via an analogy to fuel cells. Second, in the associated experimental scrutiny of membranes, material cell models were devised that reassembled spatialized molecular processes in vitro. Cells were thus modelled both on paper and in the test tube not as morphological structures but as compartments able to perform physicochemical work. The story of cells and membranes in bioenergetics points out the role that theories and practices in physical chemistry had in the molecularization of life. These approaches model the cell as a ‘topology of molecular action’, as I will call it, and it involves concepts of spaces, surfaces and movements. They epitomize an engineer’s vision of the organism that has influenced diverse fields in today’s life sciences
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References found in this work BETA
D. Allchin (1996). Cellular and Theoretical Chimeras: Piecing Together How Cells Process Energy. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 27 (1):31-41.
Douglas Allchin (2002). To Err and Win a Nobel Prize: Paul Boyer, ATP Synthase and the Emergence of Bioenergetics. [REVIEW] Journal of the History of Biology 35 (1):149 - 172.
William Bechtel (2010). The Cell: Locus or Object of Inquiry? Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 41 (3):172-182.
John N. Prebble (2001). The Philosophical Origins of Mitchell's Chemiosmotic Concepts: The Personal Factor in Scientific Theory Formulation. Journal of the History of Biology 34 (3):433 - 460.
Marcel Weber (2002). Theory Testing in Experimental Biology: The Chemiosmotic Mechanism of ATP Synthesis. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 33 (1):29-52.
Citations of this work BETA
Mathias Grote (2013). Purple Matter, Membranes and 'Molecular Pumps' in Rhodopsin Research (1960s–1980s). Journal of the History of Biology 46 (3):331-368.
Staffan Müller-Wille (2010). Cell Theory, Specificity, and Reproduction, 1837–1870. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 41 (3):225-231.
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