Apoptosis is described as the active death of cells; this differs from normal cell death called necrosis. Necrosis is the type of death many are aware of, which is when something dies due to damage whereas apoptosis is when a cell ‘commits suicide’ and we will explore why this function occurs and what its purpose is.
During the development of the fetus – or embryogenesis – there are 2 processes by which the body uses. Those are mitosis and apoptosis, mitosis in the splitting of a single cell into 2 daughter cells; this is the famously known cycle of
Apoptosis in the fetus is needed mostly for morphogenesis, or the making of shapes. This significance for fingers occurs within the days 41 and 54 after conception, at the beginning of the formation of the hand. The hands are barely recognizable as they resemble simple paddles at this point. It isn’t until the cells in these paddles suicide in the correct formation – in the now spaces between your fingers on your hands – to allow the separation of the individual digits of the hand to allow proper growth and shape.
As you may infer from the above, this apoptosis is certainly no random occurrence but is rather much regulated and is commonly referred to as programmed cell death, or PCD. The balances of chemicals are also very important, for any shift can set them off incorrectly and will therefore lead to many malformations both mild and severe. The main chemical group responsible for controlling this process is called morpogens, therefore the morphogenesis involved in fetal development. They signal the mitochondria – cell organelle – to delay or start the apoptosis. As this cycle begins, the nucleic acids – DNA – and cell organelle begin to separate as the cytoplasm begins to shrivel. The cytoplasm is a component of the cytoskeleton or the main squishy body of the
A scary but practical example of morphogenic responses is the reaction of pregnant women to Accutane, a common anti-acne drug that contains retinoic acid, which is a type of morphogen. It is often advised for pregnant women to not use this for the added morphogens will induce increased levels of apoptosis activating chemicals that will ultimately cause more embryonic death; this can and will often lead to physical deformities in the unborn child as well as other issues down the developing road.
Though the main focus of this was to inform of the process by which your fingers came to be and what apoptosis’s role is, apoptosis has many other functions. Such as the replacing of your skin, or the inside lining of your intestines. It is also an important factor in the cycle of a woman’s period. Routine apoptosis is needed to keep mitosis at bay and to maintain homeostasis in your body, for as mitosis forms new cells the others cells need to die off to regulate the “population” of cells within the body as to not overcrowd and etc. Perhaps you should be thankful for the functions that developed evolutionarily over time to allow proper development and growth for your every day ‘taken for granted’ activities in life.
Biomedical Engineering Student attending RIT
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Dutchen, Stephanie, and Kirstie Saltsman. "Cell Suicide: An Essential Part of Life."LiveScience.com. N.p., 23 Feb. 2011. Web. 24 Feb. 2013.