In 1951, 31-year-old Henrietta Lacks entered Johns Hopkins Hospital to be treated for a cancerous tumor. Although she died a few months later, her tumor cells are still alive today. Scientists found that, given adequate nourishment, cancerous cells from the tumor could reproduce themselves indefinitely in a laboratory dish, where they grew as a formless mass. These "HeLa cells" became a test-tube model for many studies of human biology. Over the past half-century, tens of thousands of research articles have been published using information obtained from Henrietta's cells. But are these "immortal" cells really a good model for human biology?
In one sense, they are indeed a good model. Most multicellular organisms come from a single cell: the fertilized egg. This cell reproduces itself to make two cells, which in turn divide to become four cells, and so on until all the cells of a new organism have been produced. An organism is not just a mass of cells like the HeLa culture, however; its cells must form specialized tissues and organs, each with specific roles to perform.
In normal tissues, cell reproduction (cell "births") is offset by cell loss (cell "deaths"). We know that cell death is important from careful studies of a tiny worm, Caenorhabditis elegans, in which 1,090 cells are produced from the fertilized egg and exactly 131 of them die before the worm is born. If the cells that are programmed to die do not do so, the worm's organs are severely malformed. Another example occurs in the mammalian brain. Young mice, for instance, lose hundreds of thousands of brain cells each day; if these cells do not die, the mouse's overcrowded brain simply does not work.
A cell's death is often programmed into its genetic instructions: normal cells "sacrifice" themselves for the greater good of the organism. Once an organism reaches its adult size, it stays that way through a combination of cell division and programmed cell death. Unlike most normal cells, but like most cancerous cells, HeLa cells keep growing because they have a genetic imbalance that heavily favors cell reproduction over cell death.
In this chapter, we will first describe how prokary-otic cells produce two new organisms from the original single-celled organism. Then we will describe two types of cell and nuclear division—mitosis and meiosis—and relate them to asexual and sexual reproduction in eukaryotic organisms. Finally, to
HeLa Cells: More Births Than Deaths
These tumor cells grow and reproduce as an unspecialized mass on the surface of a solid medium.They have been cultured in a laboratory since 1951.They are the source of much data relating to the reproduction of human cells.
. I k balance our discussion of cell proliferation through division, we will describe the important process of programmed cell death, also known as apoptosis.
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This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.