Cell Differentiation: Definition, Specific Examples And Its Various Process

Cell Differentiation Definition

Cellular differentiation, or simply cell differentiation, refers to the process through which a cell experiences changes in gene expression in order to become a more specialised cell type. Cell differentiation allows multicellular organisms to develop functionally distinct cell types and body structures. The differentiation of cells is influenced by genetics and their interaction with the environment.

Every organism begins as a single cell. This single cell carries all the DNA that codes for the adult organism’s proteins. In contrast, this cell would cease to function if it generated all of these proteins simultaneously. This cell must divide several times, and with each division, it must initiate the differentiating process. The formation of cell lines causes the cells to become more specialised. The end outcome of this process of cell differentiation is the production of a multicellular creature with hundreds of unique cell types.

Stem cells are the undifferentiated cell masses from which all other cells arise. Stem cell division is asymmetrical, as opposed to regular cell division, which creates two identical daughter cells. In this case, one of the cells is identical to the parent stem cell. Chemical stimuli activate cell differentiation in the other cell, causing it to begin expressing the DNA of a certain cell type. Embryonic stem cells are totipotent stem cells that can differentiate into fully formed animals.

By contrast, the body also possesses numerous cells that are just pluripotent. Cell differentiation has already occurred in these cells. These stem cells can only differentiate into a few different cell types. Somatic stem cells, for example, can only make red blood cells if they are present in bone marrow. These cells are necessary for the replenishment of blood cells on a constant basis, which are basically dormant save for their capacity to transport oxygen.

Cell Differentiation Examples

In Animals

A unicellular creature termed the zygote is generated as a result of the fertilisation process in mammals. The zygote is totipotent, which indicates it may develop into a whole creature. Even the blue whale, the world’s biggest mammal, begins with a single cell. All complex tissues and organ systems, that differ greatly in form and function, derive from the zygote. Cell differentiation begins early in the life of an organism. The cells have already begun expressing different sections of the DNA by the time the gastrula has developed.

The embryo’s early folding processes are triggered by these modifications. As the tissues develop, certain cells begin to release hormones, which are chemical triggers that cause other cells to respond. Hormone signals control DNA expression in numerous bodily areas, causing additional cell differentiation. In humans, a basic heart and circulatory system takes a little over a month to develop.

Many stem cells lose their totipotency as the systems develop, causing them to undergo cell differentiation. This enables the rapid creation of specialised cells that the developing creature needs to maintain its development and successfully enter the world. Tissues as diverse as brain tissue and muscle are generated from the same cell via cell differentiation.

In Plants

The process of cell differentiation is quite identical to the lifecycle of plants, which may at times seem strange and complicated. Despite the involvement of several hormones, all plants originate from a single cell. A seed is nothing more than a covering for the zygote, which also acts as its food supply. In the animal world, it is remarkably similar to an egg. The zygote within divides into a tiny embryo after cell division. As the seed is dispersed around the earth, development comes to a standstill.

The seed will take up moisture and resume the growth process after winter or whenever the situation is ideal. Two meristems will arise in the embryo. A meristem is a special kind of stem cell that goes through cell differentiation as it grows outward. One will push its way to the surface, while the second will produce the roots.

The root cap is formed when a layer of cells forms surrounding the meristem in the roots. As the roots travel through the soil, this layer of cells sloughs off and is replaced by the meristem. Cell differentiation takes place in a different direction on the inside of the meristem. The cells here are directed to produce vascular tissue and support cells by the hormones and environment. They will ultimately transport water and nutrients to the plant’s apex.

The meristem seems to function similarly on the surface. It forms both internal and exterior cells as it splits vertically. The inward cells undergo a similar differentiation to the roots, resulting in increased vascular tissue. Cell differentiation into stems and leaves occurs on the exterior of the cells. These are analogous to animal organs and are as distinct from the initial cells as animal cells are. If you are still unconvinced, take an acorn and relate it to the enormous tree it will become. It is not just much smaller, but it also comprises whole new cell kinds. The process of cell differentiation may account for this.

Cell Differentiation Process

Transcription factors are an important part of the cell differentiation process. These hormones and substances control the activity around DNA, regulating which genes are transcribed and which are not. The body and other cells in the vicinity determine the factors present in cells from birth to death.

For cellular growth, a hormone called for may be released by the pancreas or thyroid, for example. This transcription factor has a direct effect on the proteins that transcribe DNA, transforming the proteins into active proteins and additional cells. When cells begin to press together, however, additionally, they will indicate that there is no extra space. As a result, the process of cell differentiation has a wide range of inputs and results.

This intricate procedure is currently being researched. Beginning with a thorough grasp of the worm C. elegans, scientists have made significant progress in comprehending cell differentiation. This little worm-like organism contains 959 cells as an adult female. They are quite straightforward to trace from zygote to adult due to their limited quantity. Scientists have begun to unravel some of the complicated and epigenetic mechanisms at work in cell differentiation by tracing their cell histories. In other words, not only does a cell’s DNA play an important role, but also where and how that DNA is expressed.


1. Why is cell differentiation an important process?

  1. A,It allows for multi-cellular life forms
  2. It creates new species
  3. We could do without it

2. What is the difference between cell differentiation and development?

  1. A.Development does not include differentiation
  2. Cell differentiation is part of development
  3. There is no difference

3. If each stem cell divides into more specialized cells, where do you get more stem cells from?

  1. A.You don’t
  2. Stem cells divide asymmetrically
  3. The zygote creates them


  1. A is correct.Without the process of cell differentiation, multicellular organisms would not be possible. Some algae live in colonies, but this is nowhere near the level of complexity developed by insects or vertebrates. Cell differentiation allows the creation of tissues and organs, which can serve specific and useful functions for an organism.
  2. B is correct.Development is the entire process of creating a new organism from a single cell. It includes everything from forming the correct tissues to creating the neural connections to support a new body. Cell differentiation is simply the process through which cells begin to express only certain portions of DNA, thereby becoming specialized cell types.
  3. B is correct.When most stem cells divide, one of them retains the original character of being a stem cell. The zygote divides without cell differentiation 3 times, creating 8 identical totipotent cells. These cells will continue to divide asymmetrically, and will eventually give rise to three general tissues, the ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm. These tissues will undergo further cell division to become specific tissues.


  • Lodish, H., Berk, A., Kaiser, C. A., Krieger, M., Scott, M. P., Bretscher, A., . . . Matsudaira, P. (2008). Molecular Cell Biology (6th ed.). New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.
  • McMahon, M. J., Kofranek, A. M., & Rubatzky, V. E. (2011). Plant Science: Growth, Development, and Utilization of Cultivated Plants (5th ed.). Boston: Prentince Hall.
  • National Institutes of Health. (2018, March 11). Stem Cell Basics III. Retrieved from Stemcells.nih.gov: https://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/3.htm
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