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Methods Cell Biol. 2009;94:3-52. doi: 10.1016/S0091-679X(08)94001-2. Epub 2009 Dec 23.

From central to rudimentary to primary: the history of an underappreciated organelle whose time has come. The primary cilium.

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Department of Cell Biology, University of Virginia School of Medicine, Charlottesville, Virginia 22908-0732, USA.


For the first time, the history of the central flagellum/primary cilium has been explored systematically and in depth. It is a long and informative story about the course of scientific discovery, memory loss and rediscovery. The progress of our story is saltatory, pushed onward by innovations in technology and retarded by socio-scientific issues of linguistic and temporal chauvinism. Over one hundred and fifty years passed between the discovery of this organelle and full appreciation of its important functions. The main character in our story is an organelle that was relegated to a very minor role in the cellular opera for a very long time, until its rather sudden promotion to a central role in orchestrating many of the sensory and signaling events of the cell. Although early investigators speculated on just such a role for the primary cilium as early as 1898, it was over one hundred years before proof for this hypothesis was forthcoming.

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