Stem cell definitions and distinctions

Stem cells derive their name from their ability to produce daughter cells of different types. Stem cells are defined by a combination of the traits of self-maintenance and the ability to produce multiple, varied offspring. Putting this in more biological terms, stem cells have the unique and defining characteristics of self-renewal and of differentiation into multiple cell types. Thus, with each cell division there is an inherent asymmetry in stem cells that is generally not found with other cell types.

While their name implies that stem cells have specific intrinsic characteristics, there are multiple different types of stem cells, each defined by their production ability. Totipotent stem cells are capable of generating any type of cell of the body, including those of the extra-embryonic membranes, such as the placenta (Figure 3.1). Pluripotent stem cells may give rise to any type of cell found in the body except those of the extra-embryonic membranes. They can produce ectoderm, mesoderm or endoderm cells. Pluripotent stem cells include embryonic stem cells, isolated from the inner cell mass of the blastocyst, embryonic germ cells, isolated from embryonic gonad precursors, and embryonic carcinoma

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