Questions and Answers about BIOLOGY

by Ken Miller and Joe Levine


QUESTION: I was wondering if you knew how the Endoplasmic Reticulum got its name or who discovered it.

I sure do. It was discovered and named by Keith R. Porter, a scientist who worked at the Rockefeller University. Porter was probably the first person to figure out how to make pictures of the internal structures of cells using the newly-invented electron microscope. The endoplasmic reticulum was seen for the very first time in very thin tissue culture cells that Porter imaged in the EM. The very first published report was:

Porter, Claude, and Fullam (1945) Journal of Experimental Medicine, volume 81, page 233.

The name for this organelle was made up on the spot by Porter himself. He saw it as a lacy, delicate structure (a "reticulum") that was inside the cell ("endoplasmic"), so it made sense to call it an endoplasmic reticulum.

Keith Porter taught and did research for many years at Harvard, and left in 1970 to found the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at the University of Colorado in Boulder. I entered grad school there in 1970, and worked briefly in Porter's lab. I earned my Ph. D. in the lab next to his, and for three years was his chief teaching assistant in cell biology. He was a great, fun-loving, and creative scientist, and a brilliant teacher.

Ken Miller (2/7/02)

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(A web site developed by Ken Miller and Joe Levine to provide scientific and educational support for teachers and students using our textbooks)