I remember back in graduate school being fascinated by a little plant by the name of Acetabularia. With its dainty up-to-two-inch long stem, topped by a broad sombrero-like cap, it is best known by its poetic nickname – Mermaid's Wineglass. What is most fascinating when you hold this common little green algae from the subtropical waters of the Caribbean and Mediterranean is that, with all of its delicate detail, it consists of just one single cell.
Just one cell. All this beauty. Because of its size it is a most excellent model organism for studying cell biology. Its nucleus always can be found at the rhizoid, the base of the stalk, and only divides once the plant has reached its full height. Nowhere else in nature can one look at the entire complex morphology of life within a single cell large enough to be visible without a microscope.
The caps of Acetabularia may also be exchanged, even from two different species. If a cap is removed, the nucleus sees to it that it is regenerated. In addition, if a piece of the stem is removed, with no access to the nucleus in the rhizoid, this isolated stem piece will also grow a new cap. It was a wonderful little plant to play around with in the lab to visually appreciate the miracle of nature, reminding one just how remarkable each cell of every living thing really is, with its unfathomable number of chemical and energetic processes occurring at every instant, right there in your hand. A good analogy would be a whole automobile made of just one single moving part, with all its various functions operating at the genetically programmed direction of a single nuclear robotic brain within. When you extrapolate the magic of this one cell by 30,000,000,000,000 times, you get the average human body. Even with this great number of cells, there are really only about two hundred different types of cells in our bodies, each with its own genetically programmed nuclear brain directing all the chemical and energetic processes that keep us alive moment to moment. Wow, talk about running on autopilot!