Cell Specialisation

Cell Specialisation


  • Cell specialisation or cell differentiation is the process by which generic cells transform into specific cells with unique functions in an organism.
  • This is crucial for performing complex biological functions needed for the survival of the organism.
  • Every cell in an organism derives from a single fertilised egg cell or zygote, which goes through various stages of specialisation to form the myriad of different cell types found in the body.

Types of Specialised Cells

  • Red Blood Cells: Adapted to carry oxygen around the body. They possess a biconcave shape, lack a nucleus, and contain haemoglobin to bind and transport oxygen.
  • Neurons: Specialised for carrying electrical signals throughout the body. They have long extensions (axons and dendrites) and produce neurotransmitters for signal transmission.
  • Sperm Cells: Adapted for fertilisation. They have a streamlined shape and a tail (flagellum) for swimming towards the egg. They are packed with mitochondria for energy.
  • Root Hair Cells: Specialised plant cells enabling better water and nutrient uptake from the soil. They have long projections increasing their surface area for absorption.
  • Muscle Cells: These are specialised to contract and enable body movement. They contain protein filaments that slide past each other, causing contraction.

Importance of Cell Specialisation

  • Diversity and Efficiency: The existence of different types of cells allows an organism to perform different functions simultaneously and efficiently.
  • Increase in Complexity: Cell specialisation enables an organism to develop from a single cell into a complex, multicellular individual.
  • Survival and Evolution: It aids in the survival of the species as specialised cells are more efficient in responding to changes in the surrounding environment.

How Specialisation Occurs

  • Specialisation occurs during development in response to gene expression.
  • The genes in a cell’s DNA that are turned on or ‘expressed’ determine the specialised function of a cell.
  • Stem cells have the ability to become any type of cell – the process of specialisation involves switching some genes on and other genes off, until a specific function is determined.
  • This is tightly regulated by the body, ensuring that the right cell types develop in the right places at the right times.

Stem Cells

  • Stem cells are the foundation of cell specialisation - their remarkable potential allows them to develop into many different cell types in the body.
  • They can divide without limit to replenish other cells - a process known as self-renewal.
  • They can give rise to specialised cells, through a carefully regulated process of differentiation.
  • In the human body, stem cells are found in early embryos, the umbilical cord and certain adult tissues, like bone marrow.
  • Their incredible versatility offers potential in many areas of health and medicine, including tissue repair and the treatment of diseases such as Parkinson’s and diabetes.