Cells are the basic unit of living things. Cells are complex, containing thousands of small structures called organelles and particles. Cell biologists have identified many of the structures inside of cells and in most cases they understand what these structures do and why they are important to life. However, not all cellular structures are understood. There are still parts of the cell whose functions remain unknown and there are likely structures that haven't even been discovered yet! Vaults are relatively new cellular structures that were only first reported in 1986.
Drs. Nancy Kedersha and Leonard Rome, cell biologists working at the UCLA School of Medicine were the first to describe the vault. Although the vault particle is very small, it can be seen using a special microscope called an electron microscope (EM). The precise function of vaults is not known, however, because there are thousands of vault particles in all cells of higher organisms and because the particle has been highly conserved throughout evolution, it is likely that vault function is important to all cells.