Sunday, September 6, 2009

Stem Cells, Humans, and the Importance of Local Neighborhoods

I had an epiphany as I was sitting in my Cells to Tissues lecture earlier this week... See, when you learn about what goes on inside a cell, you realize that almost all stem cells have the same DNA inside of them, which means that technically they could be any other type of cell. What makes a stem cell unique is the environment it is in, its niche. There are certain characteristics of niches that turn on certain genes to make certain proteins, which makes a blood cell a blood cell, a skin cell a skill cell. We're realizing that we can manipulate the environment of the cell and change cells into different types of cells, which will no doubt lead to amazing therapies in the future.

So as I was sitting in class, I realized that if our cells evolved to be changeable and malleable, it reasonably follows that this could be very helpful too humans too. If you were to clone me, and put the two me's in two very different environments, families, ways of living, you would probably get two very different me's. In terms of my goals, values, beliefs, I would bet they would turn out to be much different depending on which "niche" I was put in.

Just like a blood stem cell differentiates into certain types of cells depending on which part of the bone marrow neighborhood its in, I think by and large we are who we are because of our local neighborhood, our families, communities and where we grow up.

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