Cell Differentiation

Cell differentiation is a condition where cells start out as one type and then make a change to become a completely different cell. Cells are “morphing” from one type to another.

This is an identity change to gives your cells the ability to be more specialized in the jobs that they do.

Cells in complex multicellular organisms have developed this kind of change process for protection as well as survival.

Cell differentiation happens during many times of an organism’s life, from early on all the way to adulthood.

Starting with Stem Cells

Stem cells are very unique cells that have the ability to change and renew themselves and they are found throughout the body.

The process of renewing itself is in being able to duplicate an identical copy by creating “daughter” cells.

Stem cells live in an area known as the “stem niche,” and when the time comes that it needs to change itself it receives a signal from the environment that it lives in with instructions on the type of cell that it needs to become or whether it just needs to remain the same and duplicate itself.

Once the stem cell receives the signal it can morph into another type of cell that will help to support organs in the body. In the case of stem cells that are found in bone marrow, they change to the kind of cells that your body needs to make blood.

Another name for animal stem cells is “pluripotent”. In higher plant species, stem cells are also called “meristematic cells.”  Stem cells that can differentiate into all types of cells are called “totipotent.”

The Changing of a Cell

Cell differentiation changes just about everything from the original stem cell to become the new cell type. The cell will change shape, size, metabolic activity, and even its ability to respond to signals.

In almost all cases, the only thing that doesn’t change is the DNA sequence, however, the change does some of the genes on or off.

This makes the stem cell very unusual because the new cells make look and act completely differently and yet they have the same genome.

The Importance of Cell Genes

Every cell in the body of an organism shares the same DNA. It’s the genes that make one cell completely different from another cell and they become specialized when specific genes are turned on or off.

An example of this is in your stomach where you will only have genes that support your stomach turned on.

Stem cells have a lot of power to morph from the very beginning. As each one becomes selective, they turn the genes on or off for the particular purpose as well as an organ that they are going to support.

When a stem cell becomes very specialized it will only have the genes needed turned on and all others turned off.

What Happens to Stem Cells over Time?

Scientists are constantly studying stem cells and their abilities.

The big question is if stem cells are always renewing, why do people get old? Some have a theory that as time passes, our stem cells may experience damage.

Without the ability to renew and change, fewer and fewer stem cells are doing the job and this is why our bodies age and start to deteriorate.

Facts about Cell Differentiation

  • Stem cells that can become any kind of cell are called “totipotent.” This only happens in mammals in the beginning cell stages when the cell is in the zygote and early embryonic stage.
  • Scientists can use simple laboratory techniques to see plant stem cells become totipotent.
  • All of your cells began as stem cells. Once they received the signal to change, they made the decision to alter themselves and took on their new job.
  • Even if you are a baby, once you are born your stem cells are called “adult stem cells.”
  • Organisms known as “unicellular”, such as bacteria, perform all of the functions they need in life with one single cell and don’t need cell differentiation.
  • Humans have about 210 different types of cells.

Interesting Facts about Biology

  • Smooth muscles are also called involuntary muscles. These are muscles that aren’t controlled by our conscious mind and happen automatically. Examples of these are our blood vessels, stomach, bladder, and intestines.
  • Skeletal muscles are also called voluntary muscles and these are the muscles that we consciously control to make every action. Examples of these are in our arms, fingers, and legs.
  • There are things in the world that are made of cells but aren’t living anymore. Examples of these would be wood, which is plant cells that are dead and wool, which were once living cells.
  • Humans carry from 3-5 pounds of bacteria around in our bodies.
  • The average human cell takes 24 hours to form and then complete the division into two cells.
  • The theory that life was brought to the earth from comets is called “panspermia.”

Cell Differentiation Quiz

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