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Bio 103, Week 12, Multicellular organisms as ordered arrays of cells

Paul Grobstein's picture

Glad you're here, to share explorations of life. If you're registered in Biology 103, remember to log in before posting here. Others are welcome to contribute without logging in. Such comments though will be checked to avoid spam postings and so be delayed in appearing.

In any case, remember that this isn't a place for polished writing or final words. Its a place for thoughts in progress: questions, ideas you had in class (or afterwords), things you've heard or read or seen that you think others might find interesting. Think of it as a public conversation, a place to put things from your own mind that others might find useful and to find things from others (in our class and elsewhere) that you might find useful. And a place we can always go back to to see what we were thinking before and how our conversations have affected that. Looking forward to seeing where we go, and hoping you are too.

You're free to write about anything that came into your mind this week. But if you need something to get you started, we're on to multicellular organisms.  What insights from cells can we use in thinking about more complex organisms?  What new phenomena/problems does multicellularity bring into existence? 
ekim's picture

on the ordered array of cells.

it's an eerie thought to know that our being is essentially a pieced-together puzzle of cells. multicellular organisms are so complex and simple at the same time.

and if that is the case, then can we seriously take bits and pieces of cells to create an entire other being?

PS2007's picture

I thought our dicussion on

I thought our dicussion on Friday was really interesting. It seems crazy to me that theoretically you could remove someone's brain and reattach it later on and it would still be able to function. It seems very futuristic and science fiction to contemplate brain transplants, but it doesn't seem like we are that far away from having the ability to do this. This class has made me realize how many philosophical and ethical questions go hand and hand with science. As scientific knowledge becomes greater we must contemplate the consequences of our actions.
Ruth Goodlaxson's picture

I like the idea that cells,

I like the idea that cells, which all have the characteristics of being alive, compose a being that is maybe "more" alive. But I think this raises an interesting question of whether or not a person is alive. Do their brain cells have to be alive for them to be considered truly "living?" Or is there some other characteristic by which we should judge human aliveness?
Catrina Mueller's picture

I still think it is very

I still think it is very interesting that we have all these extremely complex beings living in the world along side of very simple single celled organizims. What is the difference between us, since clearly multicellular organizims are not "better" than single celled organizms since they did not die out?
Jen's picture

I find it interesting how

I find it interesting how multicellular organisms work; all of the different cells are each like living organisms working toward their own benefit, yet they must live symbiotically with each other and in the end, all work toward one purpose. It is amazing how everything works in sync when you raise an arm, or a leg, or breathe, or eat, and all of that energy is delivered to the right place at the right time. 

Now, in considering the actions of individual cells it is easy to get wrapped up in the idea of hndreds of millions of little things somehow moving together and forget that these tiny things make up larger structures within the body. I am interested to know at what point in the womb do the cells transition from working all together to becoming different organs, and how the cells of one organ interact with cells of another (if at all) if they come in contact. I would also like to know more about the actual process of changing from zygote to stem cell, and from stem cell to specialized organ cell.
LuisanaT's picture

I may be thinking about things the wrong way but.....

I have always been comfortable with the concept of there being bacteria and such living in our intestines, hair, and everywhere else in our body.But thinking of the actual individual cells that make up our body as another set of single celled creatures that live inside us, not necessarily because of us, seems to be something completely different altogether. Although there is an interdependent relationship between the unicellular and the multicellular within the multicellular organism, why is it that these living cells work together forming a respiratory system for the rest of the body? Bacteria and viruses live within us to survive, why aren't the rest of them just as self-concerned? How did this come about? 
Rachel Tashjian's picture

I've always wondered that

I've always wondered that too! It makes sense to me that bacteria would be in us, because bacteria can feed off of things/get something out of the experience of living there - it benefits them. But why is it that there are cells working together to form systems like respiratory, as you mentioned? What's in it for them, and how did they end up there? And if it's because evolution has shaped them into a system for humans, then aren't they really under human control? And thus, maybe not really alive? This is something I'm confused about.
LaKesha's picture

Human Creators

I actually have mixed feelings about scientists creating cell/human beings. The whole topic of cloning kind of excites me. In some ways I feel like it gives humans too much power. People are finding ways to choose gender, eye color, hair color, how smart a baby is and all kinds of crzy stuff. I think that it is ridiculous, what ever happened to people making their babies the natural way and being surprised by the outcome of their child. I mean if you feel sostrongly about creating every aspect of your child, go find a doll to play on. But seriously, on the other hand, I find it kind of cool. I mean people are creating people. I am so fascinasted by how smart people are and the fact that they have figured out how to clone is beyond fascinating. But to go back to what I said earlier about it giving people too much power. There are alot of good people in this world but at the same time there are a lot of bad people. It is possible that someone could use this cloning negatively, I don't know how exactly but anything is possible. I know I rambled about a lot of different ideas but I am just so torn by the idea of cloning, I feel there are ups and downs.
kcough's picture

I thought that it was

I thought that it was interesting that multi-cellular organisms are many lives and the difficulty lies not in keeping each of them alive but in keeping them coordinated and alive. That we have to have all these cells be alive, and then all the parts be alive, and then all the parts be alive together. It’s fascinating actually. The fact that we even can function while depending on all these improbable assemblies is amazing. Everything has to work just so, and it all has to work together to boot. And it all developed from this one little tiny cell. It blows my mind. I especially enjoyed learning about MDR-TB (Multi-drug resistant TB) even though we just touched on it, but I’d like to know a bit more about how these bacteria are able to transfer information from one to the other in this “bacteria sex”.

Sharhea's picture

Ethical Implications!

If we could create a cell/living human being, what are the ethical implications? We started this discussion in class and I wanted us to continue. I believe that there is a higher being that created us to be this complex being with a nervous system, reproductory system...etc. If we create a living human being, then we are leading down a slippery slope (phrase used by many philosophers). The talk of actually creating a living thing brings up ther idea that we could create "perfection"; no longer having the sense of randomness... The list can go on, but what do you think?
kgould's picture

entire body transplants

so... obviously some topics get me really excited. one of them being human anatomy and physiology.

so yeah, Stiff by Mary Roach is an amazing book if anyone is still looking for one (for the book commentary). one of the last chapters concerns head transplants.

i just find it really remarkable that science has made it this far. that, one day, it might be possible to perform an entire body transplant.

i know many people find certain aspects of the human body "gross" or "disgusting," but i can't help being amazed by the complexity of what we are. everything works together, feeding off each other, regulating and changing to keep our bodies functioning.

it's remarkable.


cmcgowan's picture

This week's discussion has

This week's discussion has made me realize how amazing multicellular organisms are.  I had always known that there are many different factors that influence how we live as multicellular organisms, but I never really realized how interdependent all of these factors are. I think it is so amazing that there are so many factors and complex processes that influence our development and yet most of us develop into relatively normal/similar beings.  Yesterday I took a trip down to the Mutter museum ( in Philadelphia. This museum is dedicated to telling the public about what it means to be human. It does this through the collection of medical anomalies.  As I walked through there I realized that because there are countless factors that make us human, there are also countless ways in which one human can deviate from the "norm." I guess that is a consequence of being such complex organisms....
Kee Hyun Kim's picture

so what is being alive?

"what is the state of being alive?"  

Although this was a question that was extensively discussed in the earlier part of our class, the phenomena/problems that we have talked about in Fridays class regarding multicellularity sheds new light to this old question.

So what exactly is the state of being alive? Like professor Grobstein mentioned, if we could technically divide our body parts into small pieces and keep them alive as long as we supply them with sufficient oxygen and energy …  would that mean that that person is still alive? ( assuming that we will be able to put his or her body parts back together and bring them to life… ) 

The fact that a detached arm.. leg or whatever part of ones body it may be, can be considered alive disturbs me a little bit..  this means even if someone is announced dead, other parts of their body can be kept alive by supplying them with oxygen and energy.. right?... to me this sounds like a bad sf novel becoming reality….  

To go on a complete tangent.. if a person get multiple transplants.. ( such as the heart and the kidney.. ) what is her identity?...  

As science develops.. it is surely making our lives more comfortable but it is also breaking the once seemingly clear boundary of life, death and humanity itself...