The Process Of Cell Differentiation – Specification And Determination

Cell differentiation is the process in which a young cell divides and evolves into a more specific cell which allows the cell to reach its full function.

The Process Of Cell Differentiation - Specification And Determination

There are certain things that can take place in one single cell, however, most organisms require different types of cells that have come about through cell differentiation in order for these processes to become possible.

This article will explore the process of cell differentiation.

What Is Cell Differentiation?

Cell differentiation is a process that cells go through. It is where a cell undergoes changes and eventually becomes a more specific type of cell.

The process of cell differentiation is usually related to genetics and the way that genetics interact with the environment. 

In short, all organisms start from one single cell. This cell contains all of the genetic DNA coding for all the proteins. However, if this cell had all of these proteins at once from the beginning, it wouldn’t be at all functional.

The process of cell differentiation is the way that these cells work through this process. The cell divides a lot of times, and these cells differentiate as they divide. Each of the cells become more specific as they divide.

The one cell that started out the organism eventually divides and differentiates enough times to create the whole organism. This will be formed of hundreds of different cells which have been formed through this process of differentiation.

The structure that these cells are made from perform different functions but in order to be able to perform these different functions, the cells must become specialized.

Different Types Of Cells

  • Hematopoietic Stem Cells – these cells are in the bone marrow and they are related to the production of red and white blood cells and platelets. These are related in the healing process from an illness. 
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells – like the hematopoietic stem cells, these cells are found in the bone marrow.
  • Epithelial Stem Cells – These are related to the production of skin cells. They are progenitor cells. 
  • Muscle Satellite Cells – These cells are related to the muscle tissue. They are also progenitor cells.

Process Of Cell Differentiation

A totipotent is a cell which is able to differentiate into any kind of cell. These cells are able to divide into any time of cells, producing differentiated cells, but they can also have the ability to remain as the stem cell.

Cell differentiation as a process begins when the egg becomes fertilized. When this happens, the process of the cell dividing and multiplying is initiated.

This results in the formation of a group of cells that are referred to as the blastocyst. The blastocyst attaches to the wall of the uterus and continues to differentiate and split here.

The process then continues. When the blastocyst starts to differentiate, the cells will start to specialize. This is known as a zygote which will then attach itself to the womb where it begins to get its nutrients. 

Organs begin to be formed when the zygote then continues to grow, with each cell differentiating over and over.


So, you may now be wondering what part DNA has to play in this process. Once the egg has been fertilized, the DNA is already inside the cells. The cells that are formed as a result of cell division contain DNA that are identical and will exist in each cell.

The cells divide and become specialized because of the chromosomes that are also present in each cell. These chromosomes allow you to understand what each cell type should turn into. 

The genes that are present in each cell type are the things which determine what kind of cell will be produced.

The different types of cells all contain the same DNA, but the way that the gene is within the cell is what determines what cell they will become.

Specification And Determination

So, the next natural question is how does a cell decide that it needs to divide into a certain cell type? Well, the cell’s decision to choose one of these cell types is known as a specification.

This is the part of the differentiation process when the cell becomes committed to representing that cell type.

While the two cells will, at this stage, be exhibiting different gene activity, the cell will continue to develop further when the cell has differentiated fully. 

The main difference between the cell that is fully differentiated, and one that is in the process of differentiating is that those in the stage of specification are not stable for a long period of time. 

There are two main ways that the cells ‘choose’ which cell to differentiate into during the first stages of the embryo. These stages are cytoplasmic localization, and induction. 

Cytoplasmic Localization

Cytoplasmic localization refers to the very first stage of the embryo’s development. This is when the cells divide during the stage where there is no growth. This produces separate cells known as blastomeres.

These cells become the cell that they do because they inherit a part of the cytoplasm which determines this. This is referred to in the field as cytoplasmic determinants.

At the stage where the embryo has become a collection of blastomeres known as a morula, the embryo is made up for two or more collections of cells that are committed differently during the specification stage.

The cytoplasmic determinants have influenced the cell so that they contain different states of activation. Some may contain protein, while others may contain MNRA.


Induction is another way in which the cells end up differentiating in the way they do. Each group of cells that are developed releases a substance that influences the way that another group of cells will develop.

In these early stages of development that we are talking about, the induction acts as a signal to the other cells to assume a certain state.

If a group of cells have committed to becoming a certain way, they will be in a different state of specification because they will be releasing varying concentrations of the signals.

When the cells have reached the final phase of cell differentiation, the differentiated cells from one population of stem cells will go through a process called terminal differentiation which means that it is committed to that cell. 

The process of induction is controlled by a process of lateral inhibition. Where the cells differentiate in a certain way will send out signals which will then stop the cells around them from differentiating in this same way.

What Does Cell Differentiation Lead To?

What Does Cell Differentiation Lead To?

The end result of this differentiation process is a multicellular organism. The cell differentiation is the process which begins as a single cell and develops so that various organs and tissues can be formed.

We have mostly looked at the process of cell differentiation in embryos in this article, and it is very important when it comes to the development of the embryos.

However, it is also very important when it comes to the development of complex organisms throughout their life. 

In the life of a complex organism, cell differentiation can play a part in the changes to size, shape and metabolic activities in the cells. 

Scientific Developments

The understanding of cell differentiation has helped scientists to understand how stem cells can help in terms of repairing damage to cells and regenerating these cells where they do not grow.

Stem cell research has played a big part in lots of treatments in recent years as the cells that form in these areas mean that they can differentiate and be used for various treatments.

This research has been really useful in older adults as when we age, our cells lose their ability to divide and, as a result of dividing, to repair themselves.

These cells are weaker in old age because they have experienced a lot of use over the years. 

The stem cells that you find in certain parts of your body will then differentiate into any number of different cells in question.

As research develops in this area, scientists find more and more different ways that stem cells can treat different diseases.

Factors That Influence Cell Differentiation

There are a couple of things that determine the way that cells will differentiate. These are gene structure and environmental influences.

Gene structure is the most important factor that influences the cells. Each gene that exists contains important information that determines the type of cell that is going to be created.

This will determine what physical attributes the person or animal will have.

Genetic disorders occur when the genetic material has a problem with it, which means that the cells do not differentiate properly and the host will develop in a different way. 

Environmental factors are the other things that influence the way a cell is created. Things like the temperature or the amount of oxygen that a cell receives can really influence the way that cells are created.

This is because they influence the release of hormones. The proteins are affected by this, which are the things that determine the way that the hormones are transmitted.

If these molecules are influenced by the environment, then the cells are differentiated and developed.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is The Level Of Cell Differentiation In Cancer?

A grade is the way that the number of cell differentiation is measured in cancer. The grade is a marker of how differentiated a cell is in a tumor.

There are three different types of cells that make up the body of a mammal. These are germ cells, stem cells and somatic cells. The level of cellular differentiation is used to measure the cancel progression

How Do Cells Differentiate Into Different Types Of Cells

Chemical triggers activate cell differentiation and in response to this, the cell will begin to start to show the DNA of the certain cell type. Stem cells can differentiate into whole organisms that are totipotent. 

What Are Some Examples Of Cell Differentiation?

The zygote that develops into a multicellular embryo is a good example of cell differentiation. This is a great example of cell differentiation as it then develops even further into a fetus.

This comes about through a multisystem of certain cell types. There are so many different examples of cell differentiation in the world.

How Do Cells Become Specialized?

Gene’s become specialized through the process of differential gene expression. This process means that the cells become specialized.

The process begins on an unspecialized cell which has the potential to become any cell in the body, and the structure of the cell usually determines how they end up functioning

Do Cells Die?

Cells are constantly dying. Many things cause the death of these cells. There is a programmed cell death in each cell.

Death of a cell through this process is known as apoptosis and it means that your body removes lots of damaged cells when they are ready to be removed.

For instance, those with DNA damage can have their cells die early. During this process, the nucleases of the cells are activated and they self-destruct.

Cells monitor whether they are needed or whether they are causing more damage before they initiate the death of their cell. 

How Does Tissue Stay The Same Size If It Continues To Differentiate?

Some tissues in a grown adult organism stay the same size throughout the adult’s life, however, the cells continue to differentiate.

Cells in these organisms also die off, so the way that the tissues remain the same size is by maintaining an equal rate of death to the amount of cell division that is happening. 

Does Cell Differentiation Link To Cancer?

Cells that are involved in cell differentiation divide and grow when new ones are needed. They grow in order to replace old cells or cells that are damaged.

A cancerous cell divides uncontrollably as they have stopped responding to regulatory signals. Cells that are involved in cancer often do not complete the process of differentiations properly.

They are either stuck in one phase and so are creating lots of the same cell, or they’re not functioning as well as other cells. 

Final Thoughts

Cell differentiation, as explored above, is the process in which a cell divides and evolves throughout its lifetime. This is how the cell becomes able to reach its full function and ability.

Most organisms need different types of cells that have come about through cell differentiation to become their fully functioning selves as not much can be developed through single cells. 

So, now you have all the information you need to understand the process of cell differentiation.

Jennifer Dawkins

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