Alexis Carrel's Immortal Chick Heart Tissue Cultures (1912-1946)
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In an effort to develop tissue culture techniques for long-term tissue cultivation, French surgeon and biologist Alexis Carrel, and his associates, produced and maintained a series of chick heart tissue cultures at the Rockefeller Institute in New York City. From 1912 to 1946, this series of chick heart tissue cultures remained alive and dividing. Since the duration of this culture greatly exceeded the normal chick life span, the cells were deemed immortal. Although this conclusion was challenged by further experiments in the 1960s, the publicity surrounding the immortal chick heart tissue significantly influenced the concept of cell immortality and cellular aging from the 1920s through the 1960s. Carrel's experiment convinced many biologists to accept immortality as an intrinsic property of all cells, not just the cell line through which genetic material is passed to offspring, called the germ line. Consequently, the phenomenon of cellular aging was regarded not as an intrinsic characteristic, but was attributed to external factors such as the accumulation of waste products within the cell.