a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Autophagy: Self-eating by cells


Uptake and digestion in lysosomes
Christian de Duve Scientist
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

Well, I think we had arrived at the possible functions of lysosomes and I was telling you how abysmal my ignorance of cells was. And so I had to take... to start reading a little and found out, to my chagrin, that lysosomes had been known for almost a century, before I so-called discovered them. They had been known, of course, under different names; they were first known as food vacuoles, in protozoa. Protozoa feed with a rather complex mechanism sometimes and then they digest their food into pockets which the old morphologist described as food vacuoles, but really belonged to the lysosome family. And then a man called Ilya Mechnikov, who was a Russian zoologist who, for political reasons, eventually migrated to the Pasteur Institute in France... Mechnikov, who had witnessed the intracellular digestion by... by protozoa but also had seen cells in some small transparent animals that he watched in the microscope... seen cells that, sort of, were chasing after foreign objects, had come to the conclusion that those cells actually acted like the protozoa but they would eat invading bacteria, and that they would be involved in immunity, and he studied... those were mostly white blood cells, and he invented the word phagocytosis, which meant eating by cells. And he described how macrophages and white blood cells would eat bacteria and foreign objects and eventually break them down by what he called cytases. As you know, he got a Nobel Prize for that in 1915 [sic], which he shared with Ehrlich, and then another... other workers – I forget the name now – described a similar mechanism which was the taking up of droplets of fluid by cells, and they called it pinocytosis, which means drinking by cells. And then other workers had described granules of one sort or another, in various kinds of cells, and these granules would stock up with all kinds of different substances; they called them storage granules, and some of these granules... I mean, what was also observed that certain dyes would concentrate in these granules – nutro-red, for instance. Ehrlich had described this uptake of nutro-red which was concentrated in small, little granules in the cells. And so it turns out that all these observations came together under the same heading, uptake, which I called endocytosis eventually and digestion in lysosomes.

Belgian biochemist Christian de Duve (1917-2013) was best known for his work on understanding and categorising subcellular organelles. He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1974 for his joint discovery of lysosomes, the subcellular organelles that digest macromolecules and deal with ingested bacteria.

Listeners: Peter Newmark

Peter Newmark has recently retired as Editorial Director of BioMed Central Ltd, the Open Access journal publisher. He obtained a D. Phil. from Oxford University and was originally a research biochemist at St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical School in London, but left research to become Biology Editor and then Deputy Editor of the journal Nature. He then became Managing Director of Current Biology Ltd, where he started a series of Current Opinion journals, and was founding Editor of the journal Current Biology. Subsequently he was Editorial Director for Elsevier Science London, before joining BioMed Central Ltd.

Tags: Ilya Mechnikov, Paul Ehrlich

Duration: 4 minutes, 10 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008