The main advantage multicellular organisms possess over their single-celled competitors is cell specialization. Not every cell in a larger organism has to be able to extract nutrients, protect itself, sense the environment, move itself around, reproduce itself and so on. These complex tasks can be divided up, so that many different classes of cells can work together, accomplishing feats that single cells cannot. Groups of cells specialized for a particular function are tissues, and their cells are said to have differentiated. Differentiated cells (except reproductive cells) cannot reproduce an entire organism.
In people (and most other multicellular animals) there are fourteen major tissue types. There are many texts with illustrations and descriptions of the various cell types and tissue, e.g. Kessel and Kardon (1979) which is full of beautiful electron micrographs. Some of these tissue types are familiar: bones, muscles, cardiovascular tissue, nerves, and connective tissue (like tendons and ligaments). Other tissues are the constituents of the digestive, respiratory, urinary and reproductive systems. Skin and blood are both distinctive tissue types, made of highly specialized cells. Lymphatic tissue, such as the spleen and the lymph nodes make up the immune system. Endocrine tissue comprises a network of hormone-producing glands (for example, the adrenal gland, source of adrenaline) that exert global control over various aspects of the body as a whole. Finally, epithelium, the most basic tissue type, lines all of the body's cavities, secreting materials such as mucus, and, in the in-
*Cancer is an example where a single cell line within a multicellular organism reproduces to the detriment of the whole.
testines, absorbing water and nutrients.
There are more than 200 different specialized cell types in a typical vertebrate. Some are large, some small; for example, a single nerve cell connects your foot to your spinal cord, and a drop of blood has more than 10,000 cells in it. Some divide rapidly, others do not divide at all; bone marrow cells divide every few hours, and adult nerve cells can live 100 years without dividing. once differentiated, a cell cannot change from one type to another. Yet despite all of this variation, all of the cells in a multicellular organism have exactly the same genetic code. The differences between them come from differences in gene expression, that is, whether or not a the product a gene codes for is produced, and how much is produced. control of gene expression is an elaborate dance with many participants. Thousands of biological substances bind to DNA, or bind to other biomolecules that bind to DNA. Genes code for products that turn on and off other genes, which in turn regulate other genes, and so on. one of the key research areas in biology is development: how the intricate, densely interrelated genetic regulatory process is managed, and how cells "know" what to differentiate into, and when and where they do it. A prelude to these more complex topics is a discussion of what cells are made of, and what they do.
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This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.