A Single Cell - 1


Bill Bryson's  incredible book "A Short History Of Nearly Everything" impacted me on so many levels.  I have it on audio and listen to parts of it over and over.  He has a unique ability to make complex things simple and interesting.  Here are some of my favorites.

   "Atoms and the Miracle of Life"

It Starts With One Cell

We all, each and every one of us, starts as one single cell, the egg (ovum).  Of the approximately 280 million sperm that began the perilous journey to the egg, only one will penetrate the egg before she “closes the gates”.

The egg is about the size of the period at the end of this sentence.  She is 85,000 times greater in volume than the sperm that eventually entered it. 

At this point the single cell begins to divide in two, and then these two into four, and on and on and on, until at the time of birth it is estimated to be 5 trillion cells.  That’s 5,000,000,000,000 (12 zeroes) cells.  The estimates for an average adult range from 50 to 100 trillion cells.  Whatever the actual numbers are, you can see that it is an absolutely huge number of cells, all of which were generated by a single cell egg and a single cell sperm that each shared their 23 chromosomes and started dividing.

An average cell is between 10 and 100 micrometers across.  10 micrometers equals 4 ten thousandths of an inch, about one tenth the diameter of a human hair. 

Although our cells are very, very tiny they are absolutely chock full of atoms comprising entities of innumerable types, doing all sorts of processes in a very, very active manner.  Each cell could be described as a very bustling metropolis.  There are an estimated 100 trillion (100,000,000,000,000,000) (17 zeroes) atoms in a typical cell.  Interestingly enough this is also the estimated number of cells in an adult human.

To get a sense of how packed a teensy cell is, if the cell were enlarged to a scale where the individual atoms were the size of peas, the cell itself would be one half mile (over 2,600 feet) across, and it is a very packed, very busy and very dangerous place. 

Our cells do Everything that is required to stay alive

In the division of the original cell to 5 trillion cells at the time of birth, every kind of cell that is required is created.  Skin cells, brain, nerve, kidney, hair, and bone cells, mucous, blood, gall bladder, and countless other kinds of cells.  Cells for everything that is required to operate, clean, fuel, perceive (senses), think, repair and rejuvenate.  Our cells do EVERYTHING that is required for stay alive.  Five billion (9 zeroes) cells die and are replaced every day. 

Every cell works in coordination and harmony with its neighbors and with the vast range of ALL of the other cells in the entire body.

It must not be forgotten that every cell and every system and every process in our bodies are doing their job 24/7/365, and they are doing it together.  A community of 100 trillion (15 zeroes) in harmony.  Interesting since we often have difficulty keeping harmony even within our own families for very long.

As long our body (what we call this community of 100 trillion cells) is supplied with fuel, air and water it will keep on going, until one day, of course it stops.  Our body is EVERYTHING for us.  It is our home, our vessel, our center, our core, our transporter, our protector. It is a completely self-contained unit.

That we are able to do almost anything that we do is completely miraculous. This body that you are looking at is so complex that we can’t even grasp its complexity, nor can we possibly understand how completely inter-related it is, or how it can do anything that it does.

Really, it is nothing more than 100 trillion cells, each containing 100 trillion atoms, which is 10,000 Septillion.  (1 with 28 zeroes after it).  This is said to be more than all of the stars in all of the galaxies in the entire universe, and there are a LOT of galaxies in the universe.  Somehow they keep doing all that is necessary from the moment of conception until the moment we expire. 

Giving Thanks

This was the point where I stopped wondering why it got sick or broke down and couldn’t serve us as well as it had been.  What I began to wonder was how it could do anything at all.  I just take it for granted that there will be a tomorrow, that it will continue to do about everything I think and assume that it will.  I mean it always has, and I never in all these years gave much of a thought about it.  That is until I began to learn a tiny bit of what was actually going on inside this mass of flesh that I look at in the mirror.

But do we ever even stop and say thank you to any of our 100 trillion cells?  Do we even acknowledge that they exist?  Look down at your body, see its mass and know that every cubic centimeter of it is packed solid with cells.  Cells working in harmony with all of the other cells year after year.

Perhaps it would be a great idea if we took a moment or two each morning and thank our cells and the body they make for all that they are, all that they do, all they allow.  How they work in such harmony and community, how they will stretch and yawn and look outside so that we can see the morning light, and can smell the coffee, and go out into the world and do extraordinary things, often with other extraordinary humans all with bodies of their own.

“Thank you” is said to be the most powerful of prayers.  I suspect very strongly that somehow the cells in our bodies will appreciate our gratitude.  I know that I really like it when someone thanks me or appreciates who I am or what I do.

It’s interesting that if I’m doing 2 or 3 things at a time I call it multi-tasking.  Yet my body is doing bazillions of things every second in every one of its gazillions of cells, for years and years and I haven’t even thanked them – until now.

Thank you, each and every cell that make up my body, for the immeasurable gifts that you grant me every moment of every day.  I so appreciate each and every one of you for doing exactly what you do, exactly how you do it.  What a blessing you all are.  I am so very blessed.

 More of Bill Bryson's wonderfulness on the next page as he tells us what is actually going on in the bazillion cells in our wondrous bodies.  Click here or go to A Single Cell 2 at the upper left.