COSMOLOGICAL CELL BIOLOGY?

In his lectures on the teaching of cell biology in the upper grades of the waldorf schools, Rudolf Steiner suggested that cell biology be described from a cosmological perspective. 

Cell structures
In his course on the relation of the different sciences to astronomy, when talking of cells, he mainly points to the cell as a cosmos and the inner relation between structures in the cell and structures in the solar system (solar systems) (first lecture). 
      Not so much was known in his days as today about the subtle and intricate inner structures of the cell. Much more can surely be developed in this field today. 

Cell biographies - cell cycles
Another perspective is however the temporal perspective on the life of the cell. 
      Here, I feel, it it much easier to come to an understanding and picture of the development of cells as a mirror of the development of cosmos. If you look at the cell cycle of eukaryote cells with its interphase and its division stages (mitosis and meiosis), it is difficult not to feel enjoyment at the beauty of its inner order. This is clear in a number of aspects for interphase and mitosis. I have not worked on with meiosis yet. 

mitosis.jpgTHE PERSPECTIVE OF ISOLATED STAGES
This is the way one part of the life cycle of an animal cell; mitosis, rather normally is depicted in biology books. The picture is taken from "Cell and Molecular Biology" by Robertis and Robertis (1979, p 384). The accompanying text describes the stages depicted in its details.
      A, prophase, the nucleoli and chromosomes, shown as thin threads; in the cytoplasm the aster with pairs of centrioles are shown.
      B, prophase, a more advanced stage of this phase in which the chromosomes have shortened. The primary constriction with the centromeres is shown; in the cytoplasm the spindle is formed between the asters.
      C, late prophase or prometaphase, the nuclear envelope disintegrates and the chromosomes become attached to the spindle fibers.
      D, metaphase, the chromosomes are arranged along the equatorial plane.
      E, anaphase, the daughter chromosomes, preceded by the centromeres, are moving toward the poles.
      F, telophase, the daughter nuclei are in the process of reconstitution, cell cleavage has started. 

At times the cycle is really depicted as a cycle, but the normal way of depicting the stages of mitosis is that of separate stages, in a way that is very difficult to look through and come to an understanding of (Storer et al: General zoology (6th ed). McGraw-Hill Book Company 1979, p 59, Gardner E J, Snustad D P: Principles of genetics. John Wiley & Sons 1984, p 42), even though the pictures in themselves are correct and at times beautiful. 

THE CELL CYCLE VIEWED FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF ITS INNER ORDER
If you have developed an understanding of the nature of the basic stages of evolution and their relation to one another, in a way that anthroposophy makes possible, you can approach the cell cycle with other eyes. 
      You then see its inner regularities and symmetries in a new light.
      I have tried to make a preliminary sketch of the cell cycle in this perspective, as I so far have understood it.
      The basic order of the cell cycle is that of its two phases; interphase and division.
      Viewed from the perspective of anthroposophy, you can experience this as a reflection of the pralaya phase of cosmos - when it has withdrawn into itself, and is not as easy to come to an experience of for the clairvoyant researcher - and the manvantara phase - when cosmos appears again, developing through a number of stages, more visible in an external form. 
      The common terminology for the cell cycle today looks at it as consisting of two main stages, one when the cell is synthesizing and doubling its DNA, the so called S-phase and the phase when it falls apart into two new cells (in mitosis). The stages between these two stages are viewed upon as "gaps" and have therefore been termed Gap one and Gap two. 

The cell cycle from a cosmological perspective

INTERPHASE
If you look at the interphase from a more "balanced" perspective, you see too that it depicts an inner polarity between the so called G zero phase and the S phase.
      During the G zero phase, the cell, viewed from this perspective, lives through a completely "altruistic" phase, completely serving the organism, in which it is embedded.
      During the S phase, the cell has completely withdrawn from its service to the organism, and is dedicated only to blowing itself up, "egotistically", making its DNA double as "big" as before. 
      To what possible extent this regularity reflects the inner stages of the pralaya stage of cosmos, I have as yet no picture of.
      The G one stage falls into two parts. One is the one following the telophase and cytokinesis of the cell at the end of mitosis, before the cell takes up its service to its host organism. In the figure this has been termed the G one a phase. The other is the stage when the cell has stopped serving its host organism, but has not yet started to synthesize DNA during the S phase. In the figure this stage is marked as G one b. This stage constitutes the symmetry point of interphase. 
      The S phase is followed by a phase when the cell is no longer synthesizing DNA, but has not yet started the mitosis. This phase is termed G two, also in the figure. 

MITOSIS
Mitosis starts with the appearance of the chromosomes as thin threads inside the nucleus, at the same time as the cell becomes spheroid. They approach the nuclear envelope, and the nucleoli shrink and disintegrate. This is the prophase of mitosis.
      At the end of prophase the nuclear envelope too disintegrates, mixing the nuclear material with the cytoplasm. This event has its mirror in the renewed formation of nuclear envelope from parts of the endoplasmatic reticulum at the end of anaphase, as a beginning of telophase.
      The telophase is characterized by this forming of the two nuclear envelopes around the two groups of chromosomes that have been gathered at the two poles of the cell at the end of anaphase.
      The telophase goes over into cytokinesis, when not only the two nucleuses are formed as separate units, but also the cytoplasm is divided into two parts by the formation of cell walls (in plant cells) or a constriction in the equatorial region (animal and human cells) dividing the structure into two new cells.
      The telophase and cytokinesis constitute two distinct phases at the end of mitosis. If there is a strict inner order of mitosis, this implicates that the prophase preceding prometaphase also should be characterized by two distinct phases, in the figure termed prophase a and prophase b. I think this is also the case and that the clue to them are to be found in the polarization of the centrioles during prophase a, and among other things the forming of the spindle during the second part of prophase, in the figure termed prophase b.
      The stage when the chromosomes have formed and constitute the equatorial plate during metaphase is the symmetry point of mitosis. In the figure this has been termed metaphase b.
      This is preceded by the collecting of the chromosomes by the spindles and the moving of the chromosomes to the equator of the cell.
      This process has its mirror in the separation of the double chromatids during the anaphase.
      To what extent this stage b of the metaphase also constitutes a separate stage in the same sense as the other stages of mitosis is not yet clear to me. But I have the feeling it does.
      Parts of this reasoning may seem speculative, but I feel it has a sound ground in what can be seen in the microscope when looking at dividing cells.
      A problem that has to be more investigated and meditated upon is of course the finding of the essence of and turning points between the stages of mitosis that are not yet clear from the above description; i.e. the two sub phases of prophase and of metaphase.
      One of the many other problems is of course the question of the dynamics of the process and the not altogether clear relation between the times the cell spends in each stage.

Well, this has been a suggestion at least, to a partial answer to what could be meant by "describing the cell from a cosmological perspective".
      As a summary, I would say that what can be seen and has been described above of the cell cycle, with its 5 interphase-stages (G one a, G zero, G one b, S and G two) and its 7 mitosis-stages (prophase a, prophase b, metaphase a, metaphase b, anaphase, telophase and cytokinesis) seems to support Steiners suggestion to develop the understanding of the biology of the cell also from a cosmological perspective.
     (For some info on the the times spent in interphase and mitosis for different types of cells, see here)

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     This page was written on August 3, 1997.
and has last time been slightly edited on January 7, 2005
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