Stem Cell Basics; Ex-Researcher Edition
There are three things that make stem cells different from all other cells. I will be covering those three characteristics in this post. I will get into more details in later posts depending the response I get from this one! I will also provide some additional.resources at the end that you may want to explore if this tickles your fancy.
I’d like to thank everyone reading this because growth is key, knowledge is power, and stem cells are an absolutely fascinating part of the cutting edge research going on today, therefore, it is totally worth your time to learn about them. Again thank you for wanting to improve yourself and I hope you can pass the knowledge on to others.
I have worked in stem cell research for about 3 years so most of this information will not be directly cited since they are things I learned throughout the years. Don’t worry you’re in good hands and I’ll make it easy to understand 🙂
3 Defining Characteristics Stem Cells
1. They Proliferate Indefinitely
Most cells have a set(ish) number of times they can divide before they plateau and can no longer regenerate. This can be tracked through passage number (the number of times a fraction of a cell population is moved onto a new dish due to overpopulation on the current dish). Stem cells are special because they will continue to renew themselves indefinitely therefore many of the same stem cell lines—yes there are many—have been used by researchers all over the world, this creates a great standard for experimentation. This also means…
WE DO NOT BLEND UP FETUSES FOR STEM CELLS
We use the same stems cells indefinitely. No this does not mean stem cells are immortal because they do die but, they create identical baby stem cells and in that sense they are immortal. This is why they can make an entire baby from just a single cell (the egg and the sperm are in a sense only half cells because they have half the genetic make up as a regular cell but lets not get off topic.)
2. They are Unspecialized or ‘Undifferentiated’
If stem cells were human they would have no current life purpose. Every cell in your body has the same genetic make up (DNA) this means that your blood cell has the exact same DNA strands as your skin cells. The only difference between the two is the condensing of the DNA that only leaves certain parts exposed to be expressed into proteins, these are sort of the ‘workers’ of a cell. A cell won’t function well (or at all) without all the necessary proteins just like a company wouldn’t run well without all the necessary roles filled. Without picking and choosing specific regions to express there is too much open information for a cell to be productive. Just like there is reason people specialize in different fields and companies perform different functions there is a reason cells must become specialized in order to create a functional organism.
3. They can Become Specialized Cells
Basically stem cells have to find a purpose just like the rest of us. So we’ve learned that stem cells start out with a bunch of open or non-condensed DNA strands from external cues given to the stem cells they will begin to condense their DNA strands in different ways to drive them down a path towards a specific cell type. It seems so easy but it’s really quite a complicated process. If you have stem cells and you want muscle cells you can not just put them next to some muscle cells and hope they turn into muscle cells. The cells must be primed in a very precise way in order to create a specific cell type. Understanding and driving this process is the heart of most stem cell research.