Stem cells and the types of cells they can become.
Stem cell differentiation is a process in which an unspecialized stem cell develops into a specific type of tissue, such as a mature red blood cell. This occurs at all stages of life, from early embryonic development to adulthood, as the body needs a constant supply of new, specialized cells to function. Several factors are involved in cell differentiation, including environmental and biological triggers for various cell types.
Through stem cell differentiation, unspecialized stem cells develop into mature red blood cells.
The number of different cell types a stem cell can mature into is reflected by its potency. A totipotent cell can develop into any cell type at maturity. These cells are found in the early blastocyst stages of embryonic development, when each cell needs to be able to give rise to a variety of cells for the development of an embryo. As embryonic development progresses, stem cells become pluripotent in nature, with the ability to diverge into a variety of cell types, but not all.
In mammals, the zygote and embryo during the early stages of development are totipotent.
Multipotent stem cells can differentiate into several related cell types. For example, hematopoietic cells that give rise to different types of blood cells can undergo stem cell differentiation to become white or red blood cells. They cannot, however, develop into stomach linings or neurons. Multipotent cells of this nature are commonly found in adult organisms to provide continuous fresh cells to replace old worn out and damaged cells.
Multipotent stem cells can differentiate into several related cell types.
In stem cell differentiation, a stem cell receives a signal to start maturing. The cell can go through several life stages before becoming a mature cell. At any stage, an error can occur and the cell can become deformed or develop other problems. The immune system remains attentive to these cells so it can intervene to destroy them and recycle their components before they have a chance to fully develop and cause problems. The body is constantly in need of new blood and skin cells, among others, and depends on stem cell differentiation to meet this need.
Some stem cells can be harvested from the umbilical cord of newborn babies.
Scientific researchers have a particular interest in embryonic stem cell differentiation because of their totipotent and pluripotent properties. They study embryonic development to learn more about how cells mature and the order in which the various structures occur during the embryo’s development. This can provide important information about birth defects as well as an organism’s biological history. Many organisms have parallel embryonic development until a certain stage, where they begin to look radically different, just like fully mature specimens of different species. These developmental similarities may suggest the evolutionary history of various organisms.