Two approaches to understanding growth during the cell cycle are single-cell studies, where growth during the cell cycle of a single cell is measured, and cell-culture studies, where growth during the cell cycle of a large number of cells as an aggregate is analyzed. Mitchison has proposed that single-cell studies, because they show variations in cell growth patterns, are more suitable for understanding cell growth during the cell cycle, and should be preferred over culture studies. Specifically, Mitchison argues that one can glean the cellular growth pattern by microscopically observing single cells during the division cycle. In contrast to Mitchison's viewpoint, it is argued here that the biological laws underlying cell growth are not to be found in single-cell studies. The cellular growth law can and should be understood by studying cells as an aggregate.
The purpose or objective of cell cycle analysis is presented and discussed. These ideas are applied to the controversy between proponents of linear growth as a possible growth pattern during the cell cycle and the proponents of exponential growth during the cell cycle. Differential (pulse) and integral (single cell) experiments are compared with regard to cell cycle analysis and it is concluded that pulse-labeling approaches are preferred over microscopic examination of cell growth for distinguishing between linear and exponential growth patterns. Even more to the point, aggregate experiments are to be preferred to single-cell studies.
The logical consistency of exponential growth – integrating and accounting for biochemistry, cell biology, and rigorous experimental analysis – leads to the conclusion that proposals of linear growth are the result of experimental perturbations and measurement limitations. It is proposed that the universal pattern of cell growth during the cell cycle is exponential.