Totipotency

Totipotency is the ability of a single cell to divide and produce all the differentiated cells in an organism, including extraembryonic tissues. Totipotent cells formed during sexual and asexual reproduction include spores and zygotes. Zygotes are the products of the fusion of two gametes (fertilization). In some organisms, cells can dedifferentiate and regain totipotency. For example, a plant cutting or callus can be used to grow an entire plant. Human development begins when a sperm fertilizes an egg and creates a single totipotent cell (zygote). In the first hours after fertilization, this cell divides into identical totipotent cells. Approximately four days after fertilization and after several cycles of cell division, these totipotent cells begin to specialize. Totipotent cells have total potential. They specialize into pluripotent cells that can give rise to most, but not all, of the tissues necessary for fetal development. Pluripotent cells undergo further specialization into multipotent cells that are committed to give rise to cells that have a particular function. For example, multipotent blood stem cells give rise to the red cells, white cells and platelets in the blood. Importantly, totipotent cells must be able to differentiate not only into any cell in the organism, but also into the extraembryonic tissue associated with that organism. For example, human stem cells are considered totipotent only if they can develop into any cell in the body, or into placental cells that do not become part of the developing fetus. This is an important aspect of the stem cell controversy.

Basis of totipotency
The molecular mechanisms controlling totipotency are not well understood and are a subject for current research. In particular, a February 2006 report in Science suggests that in the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans, multiple mechanisms including RNA regulation maintain totipotency at different stages of development.
Definition of totipotency : The ability of a cell to proceed through all the stages of development and thus produce a normal adult.
TOTIPOTENCY AND DETERMINATION
During sexual reproduction, a sperm cell and an egg cell unite to form a one-celled fertilized egg. This cell is totipotent, meaning it has the potential to give rise to any and all human cells, such as brain, liver, blood, or heart cells. The first few cell divisions in embryonic development produce more totipotent cells. After four days of embryonic cell division, the cells begin to specialize.

During early embryogenesis, cells divide and gradually become committed to specific patterns of gene activity through a process called cell determination. Specific genes are associated with the determination event. Because the daughter cells of each "determined" cell have the same limited potential as their parent cell, determination is considered heritable. Determination is permanent under normal conditions but it is possible to reverse the process experimentally.

CELL DIFFERENTIATION
The final step leading to cell specialization is cell differentiation. Differentiation is a maturing process during which a determined cell becomes a recognizable, specialized cell. External stimuli, such as growth factors, trigger cells to differentiate. Once differentiated, these specialized cells are usually terminal and nondividing, though some may be induced to divide following injury. Differentiated cells produce and use specific proteins characteristic of their differentiation type. For example, red blood cells produce hemoglobin to help transport oxygen, and muscle cells produce myosin to help with muscle contraction. Differentiated cells often assume characteristic shapes, such as columnar epithelial cells and star-shaped astrocytes.

RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN DIFFERENTIATION AND TOTIPOTENCY
Though differentiated cells have distinct shapes, activities, and functions, these differences are apparently due to gene expression. There is no evidence that genes normally are lost during most developmental processes. At least some nuclei from differentiated plant and animal cells are totipotent and contain all the genetic material present in the nucleus of a zygote. For example, a complete carrot plant can develop from differentiated somatic cells. Geneticists cut carrot root tissues into discs made up of phloem cells, which are specialized for nutrient transport. When these differentiated cells were cultured in a liquid nutrient medium, individual cells divided to form clumps of undifferentiated cells known as embryoid bodies. The embryoid bodies, which closely resembled plant embryos in their early stages of development, then progressed to form embryonic shoots and roots. Transferring the embryonic tissue to a solid nutrient medium stimulated the tissues to form small plants, called plantlets, which then developed into mature plants.

STEM CELLS
Stem cells, undifferentiated cells that are able to differentiate into more than one cell type, are of great scientific interest today. Stem cells can divide to produce differentiated descendents, yet also retain the ability to divide to maintain the stem cell population. The most versatile stem cells—those that have the ability to give rise to all tissues of the body—are known as pluripotent stem cells. Other stem cells appear to be more specialized; for example, neural stem cells have been shown to form blood cells when transplanted into bone marrow, and bone marrow stem cells can differentiate

into muscle cells. Also, some blood stem cells can develop into platelets, white blood cells, or red blood cells. These more specialized stem cells are called multipotent.

SUMMARY
An organism contains many types of cells that are specialized both structurally and chemically to carry out specific functions. These cells are the product of a process of gradual commitment, called cell determination, which ultimately leads to the final step in cell specialization, called cell differentiation. As cells undergo determination and differentiation, they change from being totipotent to pluripotent to multipotent to, finally, specialized cells.

How does a single-celled zygote give rise to a complex organism with many specialized parts?
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Introduction Totipotency and determination Cell differentiation Relationship between differentiation and totipotency Stem cells Summary

Development, which is broadly defined as all the changes that occur in the life of an individual, involves some of the most fascinating and difficult problems in biology today. Of particular interest is the process by which the descendants of a single cell specialize and organize into a complex organism.

Who coined the term "totipotency"?
"Totipotency" is a term of tissue culture which means the ability of plants to develop into a complete organism from a single cell.

Human development begins when a sperm fertilizes an egg and creates a single totipotent cell (zygote). In the first hours after fertilization, this cell divides into identical totipotent cells. Approximately four days after fertilization and after several cycles of cell division, these totipotent cells begin to specialize. Totipotent cells have total potential. They specialize into pluripotent cells that can give rise to most, but not all, of the tissues necessary for fetal development. Pluripotent cells undergo further specialization into multipotent cells that are committed to give rise to cells that have a particular function. For example, multipotent blood stem cells give rise to the red cells, white cells and platelets in the blood.

Importantly, totipotent cells must be able to differentiate not only into any cell in the organism, but also into the extraembryonic tissue associated with that organism. For example, human stem cells are considered totipotent only if they can develop into any cell in the body, or into placental cells that do not become part of the developing fetus. This is an important aspect of the stem cell controversy.

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