• Question: What is a stem cell?

    Asked by xoislaox to Asian Hornet, Daubenton's bat, Giant Hogweed, Leathery Sea Squirt, Lion's Mane Jellyfish, Oak Apple Gallwasp, Turkey Oak on 1 Dec 2017.
    • Photo: Lion's Mane Jellyfish

      Lion's Mane Jellyfish answered on 1 Dec 2017:

      Stem cells are a special type of cell that can become other types of cells, such as brain cells, heart muscle cells or bone cells.

      When humans start developing in the womb, they have lots of stem cells that are able to turn into different cells, and can also make lots of copies of themselves. Without these stem cells, you wouldn’t have been able to make all the different types of cell that make up your body!

      Adult humans produce stem cells too and they are used to repair damage inside the body, thanks to their amazing ability to become other types of cell! A common place to find stem cells is inside your bone marrow, but they can also be found in fatty tissue and blood.

      There is currently a lot of scientific research looking into stem cells, as their transforming properties make them very useful for human medicine! But it’s not just humans that have stem cells, all multicellular organisms have them, including the Lion’s Mane Jellyfish!

    • Photo: Oak Apple Gallwasp

      Oak Apple Gallwasp answered on 2 Dec 2017:

      Good answer from Lion’s Mane! Plants have stem cells too – or at least their equivalent. My gall wasp research is interested in stem cells because making other cells into stem cells is something that gall wasps can do. Usually, a stem cell’s transition to another kind of cell (as Lion’s Mane explains) is a one way ticket – a finger cell or a hair cell can’t go back to being a stem cell. But gall wasps have the ability to take plant cells of a particular type (say, leaf, or flower), and turn them BACK into stem cells (a process called ‘dedifferentiation’), and then make them develop into something else entirely! This is AMAZING, very rare in nature, and is how gall wasps make plants produce the crazy galls you can see on my profile page. No-one knows how gall wasps do this – but it’s one of the things that we could find out with a gall wasp genome!

    • Photo: Daubenton's Bat

      Daubenton's Bat answered on 4 Dec 2017:

      Excellent answers from Lion’s Mane Jellyfish and Oak Apple Gallwasp (what talent that little gallwasp has with plant stemcells – what I have loved about this competition is all that I have learned from my fellow creatures in the Dangerous Zone – thank you!)