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When people make paper, are some of the cells still alive, or do they all just disintegrate?
Question Date: 2000-10-17
Answer 1:

Also, for your general information on cells!

For all of the questions: students interested in "cells and how they are studied" as well as "what is a cell biologist?" can contact the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) for free brochures and on-line information at:


Answer 2:

I'm sure there aren't any live cells in paper.I expect paper is made with chemicals that kill the cells, and wood cells probably die as soon as they get totally dried out even. You could look up something like 'paper making' on www.google.com to find out a lot more, and you could look at paper with with a microscope or magnifying glass to look for cells. I think paper is mostly cellulose fibers. You could compare it to the very thin layers inside an onion, which does have live cells. You can put a drop of iodine on the onion cells to stain some parts of the cells to see the parts more clearly.

Answer 3:

Well this is a well thought-out question. You obviously know that paper is made from trees, so we'll start there. Trees are part of the plant kingdom. There are several common characteristics that all plants share, one is that their cells are covered in cell walls. This cell wall is in addition to the cell membrane, which is what every other cell in the world is covered in (all the cells in your body are covered in cell membranes, but not cell walls). Cell walls are different from cell membranes in many ways, but one is that they are made from cellulose, a complex molecule that plants can make. The
cellulose is a type of sugar molecule and is formed into fibers in the cell wall. It helps make the plant cells tougher.

In the process of making paper, a portion of the tree is turned into pulp by grinding the tree up (like in a blender). Tree pulp is kind of similar to the pulp you would get in orange juice (hey, what does
that pulp come from?). After the tree is ground into pulp most of the trees cells have pretty much burst. The pulp is made of a bunch of cell material, including most importantly, the cell wall. The pulp is dried, bleached, and further processed to remove most of the cellular material other than the cellulose. In the end you have paper. So paper is mostly made of cellulose. And by the end of the whole process there wouldn't be any whole cells left, they would have been all destroyed in the process of making the paper.

Humans cannot digest cellulose because we do not contain the appropriate enzymes. Enzymes are molecules that can help us break down other molecules. If you eat paper does it taste like sugar? Why not? If paper is made from cellulose and cellulose is a type of sugar, then why doesn't it taste sweet? I'll tell you why... humans have evolved the ability to taste only some of the many forms of sugar molecules that exist in the world. We don't have the ability to detect the taste of cellulose. And, we can't digest it so it makes sense that it doesn't taste like anything to us.

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