What is cell differentiation?
At conception human cells are produced and begin to divide. These cells contain all the genes that the body needs to grow, develop, and carry out the different functions of the body. The process in which the cells develop into specialized cells is call cell differentiation.
When the female egg and sperm (haploid cells) are joined together it produces a cell called the zygote (fertilized egg). In early stages of development these cells are called totipotent (a cell that can develop into any kind of cell.) At this point all of the genes from the mother and father are formed in the zygote. The zygote will divide and reproduce itself to create a small cluster of cells called a blastocyst. The blastocyst implants in the uterine wall and becomes an embryo. In eight weeks the embryo matures into the fetus.
When the cells have divided and contain all the genes necessary to produce any cell in the body they are called stem cells. As the cells continue to divide, some genes are disabled or shut down, causing the cells to develop into specialized cells. These cells will carry out certain functions of the different parts of the body.
This cell differentiation is important because it will allow different organisms to develop. The different organisms are needed to create the different cells that make up the human body (germ cells, somatic cells, and adult stem cells.)
Germ cells (haploid cells) are used in reproduction, and somatic cells make up most of the cells in the human body. Adult stem cells are found in the bone marrow (spongy, fatty tissue found in a few large bones).
Stem cells are the body’s master cells. Since they have not formed into specialized cells, they can be stimulated into producing different types or specialized cells and tissues. These differentiated cells are being used for stem cell therapy research.
Stem cells are harvested from embryo and adult tissues. They can also come from the umbilical cord and placenta. Embryos are artificially produced in a scientific environment to harvest the stem cells.
The cells are kept in a controlled environment until they are chemically adjusted to create nerve cells, bone, blood, or growing muscles. Embryonic stem cells are used mostly in stem cell therapy. Adult stem cells are harder to stimulate and they work better in developing the cells of the tissues from which they were attained (heart, skin, bone).
Researchers hope that the study of stem cell research will help them learn more about preventing congenital conditions in embryos and fetuses while still in the womb. Stem cell therapy is currently being used in treating about 100 different illnesses. It is hopeful that cell differentiation could lead to better cancer treatments. Researchers believe the potential cures are limitless.
Although stem cell research has the hope of curing many illnesses, it comes with many debates and controversies. Many people believe that an embryo is alive at the time of conception. Does it matter if the embryo is artificially produced and is never in the womb?
Is it ethical to artificially produce a fetus just to destroy it? Is it ethical to destroy one life in the hopes that it can save many?