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Towards a perceptive understanding of size in cellular biology


Cells are minute—typically too small to be seen by the human eye. Even so, the cellular world encompasses a range of scales, from roughly a tenth of a nanometer (10−10 m) to a millimeter (10−3 m) or larger, spanning seven orders of magnitude or more. Because they are so far from our experience, it is difficult for us to envision such scales. To help our imagination grasp such dimensions, I propose the adoption of a 'perceptive scale' that can facilitate a more direct experience of cellular sizes. From this, as I argue below, will stem a new perception also of biological shape, cellular space and dynamic processes.

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Figure 1

Tiziana Loni

Figure 2: The dimensions of objects are easy to identify when they are set in an environment.

Claudia Flandoli

Figure 3: Examples of scientific images showing how the inclusion of a familiar object (here, a ten-million-times downsized cat) can improve the viewer's perception of relative scale.


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Correspondence to Monica Zoppè.

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Zoppè, M. Towards a perceptive understanding of size in cellular biology. Nat Methods 14, 662–665 (2017).

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