Introduction to Specialisation in Cells

  • Cell specialisation or differentiation is the process by which a cell changes to carry out a specific function better.
  • It often involves the change in shape, as well as metabolic activities of the cell.
  • The human body has hundreds of cell types, each specialised for a specific role.
  • All these specialised cells originate from a single zygote cell.

Types of Specialised Cells

  • Red blood cells: Their main function is to carry oxygen. They are specialised by having a biconcave shape to maximise surface area for oxygen absorption and lack a nucleus for more space to carry haemoglobin.
  • Sperm cells are specialised for reproduction. They have a long tail for mobility, lots of mitochondria for energy, and a head that contains enzymes to penetrate the egg.
  • Nerve cells or neurons: These cells transmit messages around our body. They are long to send signals faster and have branched ends to connect with other nerve cells effectively.
  • Root hair cells in plants: These cells absorb water and minerals from the soil. Their shape maximises surface area for absorption.

Development of Specialised Cells

  • A zygote cell divides repeatedly to form a ball of cells.
  • Initially, the cells are identical and can develop into any type of cell; these are known as stem cells.
  • As development continues, the cells differentiate and become specialised.
  • Once a cell has become specialised, it usually cannot change or become a different type of cell.
  • The process of specialisation ensures that all necessary roles and tasks in the body are effectively carried out.

Importance of Specialised Cells

  • Cell specialisation allows for a wide range of functions to be carried out efficiently in complex organisms.
  • It allows organisms to be more complex with a division of labour in cells.
  • This specialisation or division of labour means that the cells can work together to ensure the survival of the organism.

Stem Cells

  • Stem cells have the remarkable potential to develop into many different cell types in the body.
  • They serve as a sort of internal repair system, dividing essentially without limit to replenish other cells
  • Under certain physiologic or experimental conditions, they can be induced to become tissue- or organ-specific cells with special functions.
  • Stem cells found in embryos are pluripotent, i.e., they can differentiate into any type of cell.
  • Adult stem cells, however, are multipotent and can only develop into a limited number of cell types related to their tissue of origin.

Potential and Risks of Stem Cells

  • Stem cells have the potential to treat a wide range of diseases, including diabetes, strokes, and heart disease.
  • However, there are potential risks like unwanted immune system responses, the growth of tumours, and the ethical implications associated with embryonic stem cell use.