AQA GCSE Biology

Revision Notes

1.2.3 Stem Cells

Specialised Cells: Review

  • Multicellular organisms are organisms made from more than one cell
    • You (a human) are multicellular, being made from trillions of cells
  • Specialised cells have a particular structure and composition that allow them to perform a specific function, and they form through a process known as differentiation
    • There are about 250 specialised cell types in the human body (e.g. red blood cell, motor neurone cell etc.)
  • If a specialised cell is able to divide by mitosis, the daughter cells produced will be the same type of specialised cell. These cells have lost their ability to differentiate into other types of cell

Stem Cells

  • If cells are isolated at an early stage of growth (before they have started to become too specialised), they can retain their ability to grow into a range of different types of cells – these are stem cells
  • A stem cell is an undifferentiated cell of an organism which is capable of dividing (giving rise) to many more cells of the same type (undifferentiated stem cells)
  • From these cells, other cells can arise through the process of differentiation
    The table below summarises the different types of stem cell you need to know about:

Stem cells

Stem cells table 1, downloadable IGCSE & GCSE Biology revision notes

Stem Cells: Animals v Plants

  • Embryonic stem cells are important as they help to form all of the different tissues and organs needed during development to form a new individual
  • The role of adult stem cells is predominantly to replace cells lost through damage or to produce new cells for growth – although the bone marrow has to continually make new blood cells throughout life
  • In plants, meristem cells are unspecialised cells which can differentiate into the cells needed by the plant in regions where growth is occurring
  • For example, meristem cells in the roots can differentiate into root hair cells as well as other cells required in this part of the plant
  • The stem cells found in the meristems of plants retain the ability to differentiate into any type of plant cell throughout the life of the plant

Stem Cells in Medicine

  • It is possible to grow human embryos in the lab and to extract embryonic stem cells from them
  • These embryonic stem cells can then be encouraged to differentiate into most types of specialised cell
  • Scientists and doctors could use stem cell technology to repair damaged organs by growing new tissue from stem cells produced by embryos created using genetic information from the patient
  • Adult stem cells can also be cultured in the lab and made to differentiate into specialised cells, but of fewer types than embryonic stem cells (predominantly cells of the blood)
  • Stem cells could be used to cure many diseases in the future, such as diabetes and paralysis:

Stem cell treatment

Stem cell treatment table 2, downloadable IGCSE & GCSE Biology revision notes

Therapeutic Cloning

  • In therapeutic cloning, an embryo is produced with the same genes as the patient
  • A 5-day old embryo is the best source of embryonic stem cells
  • Stem cells from embryos created in this way are not rejected by the patient’s body
  • So they may be used for medical treatment without the patient having to take drugs to suppress their immune system (which reduce the body’s ability to fight infection)

Therapeutic Cloning, downloadable IGCSE & GCSE Biology revision notes

Diagram showing the process of therapeutic cloning

Evaluating Stem Cells in Medicine

Evaluating stem cells

Evaluating stem cells_1, downloadable IGCSE & GCSE Biology revision notes

Stem Cells in Plants

  • Unlike in animals, plant stem cells can be obtained easily, and without ethical objection, from meristems. They can then be used to produce clones of plants quickly and economically
    • Plant clones can be produced in weeks at a relatively low cost for their potential value
  • Rare species at risk of extinction as a result of human activity can be cloned to protect them and maintain biodiversity
    • The plants produced are clones, so although numbers increase, genetic diversity within clones is low
    • Cloning rare plants gives scientists more time to study them to see if they can produce any compounds of interest
  • Crop plants with special features such as disease or pest resistance can be cloned to produce large numbers of identical plants for farmers
    • This reduces the need to use chemicals such as pesticides, which has environmental benefits

Author: Jenna

Jenna studied at Cardiff University before training to become a science teacher at the University of Bath specialising in Biology (although she loves teaching all three sciences at GCSE level!). Teaching is her passion, and with 10 years experience teaching across a wide range of specifications – from GCSE and A Level Biology in the UK to IGCSE and IB Biology internationally – she knows what is required to pass those Biology exams.
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