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Cell theory I – the cellular basis of life

Jones, C. and Calver, M.C.ORCID: 0000-0001-9082-2902 (2009) Cell theory I – the cellular basis of life. In: Calver, M.C., Lymbery, A., McComb, J.A. and Bamford, M., (eds.) Environmental biology. Cambridge University Press, Port Melbourne, pp. 43-64.


In January 1849, members of Western Australian Surveyor General John Roe’s expedition were forced to halt after crossing the Blackwood River near Kojonup, in the south-west of the state. Their horses were lethargic after browsing some fleshy-leafed vegetation along the route and had to be rested for a day. The horses were lucky to recover. The plants they had eaten contained fluoroacetate, one of the most toxic substances known. Although the poison does not act rapidly, doses of as little as 1 mg per kg of body weight are lethal to a wide range of animals, and some species are killed by even weaker doses. Although Roe’s horses fell ill and other introduced European livestock died after browsing these plants, many of the Australian native Herbivores in this region are unharmed by eating these plants. Why is fluoroacetate so toxic? How do some native species overcome this toxicity? Is resistance to fluoroacetate poisoning transmitted from generation to generation? The answers to these questions lie in the properties of cells.

Chapter aims: This chapter covers the common characteristics of all life, the basic structure and functions of cells and the significant differences between the two main groups of organisms the prokaryotes and the eukaryotes. The fluoroacetate toxicity example illustrates how knowledge of cell metabolism can be important when dealing with environmental problems.

Item Type: Book Chapter
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Copyright: (c) Michael Calver, Alan Lymbery, Jennifer McComb, Michael Bamford
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