One of the most important advances in the field of cell biology came in the early 20th century, with the discovery that plant and animal cells could survive - and even replicate - outside the living organism. In 1907, R.G. Harrison, a neurobiologist trying to prove that nerve fibers were actually outgrowths of single cells, chopped up spinal cord tissue and added it to clotted plasma in a humidified growth chamber. The nerve cells from this crude explant not only grew and divided in this environment, but also extended long axons into the plasma clot in a manner comparable to that seen in vivo, clearly showing for the first time that cells could be grown in an artificial environment. Glass or plastic culture vessels eventually replaced plasma clots, and specialized growth media - containing a complex balance of amino acids, vitamins, salts, and minerals - were developed to support the...

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