jump to navigation

Stem Cells For Beginners: Where Do They Come From? July 22, 2007

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Human Body, Stem Cells, Think About It.

This is the second part of my little series of blog entries that I’m calling Stem Cells For Beginners. You can still read part one, which is called What Are Stem Cells? I started this series because lets face it, stem cells are one complicated subject! They’re going to be talked about a lot more in the weird science blog and you will probably hear about them in the news as well. This series is a primer to give you enough information so that you can read new blog entries with ease and when you hear something on the news, it’ll be easier to follow what’s going on.

In part one, you learned that stem cells have the unique properties of being unspecialized, while still being able to differentiate into specialized cells. You also learned that they can proliferate, which means they multiply into perfect copies of themselves. That still doesn’t answer why there’s so much heated anger and controversy over stem cells. And I’ll tease you a bit by saying that we’re not quite there yet – this blog entry is going to cover where stem cells come from, which you need to understand before we can get into the controversy.

Stem Cell Differentiation Lets Break It Down

To understand why there’s so much emotion over stem cell use, we have to look at their sources – where they come from. So, grab yourself a glass of milk and a snack and get comfy at your computer for the next five minutes.

Embryonic Stem Cells

You’ve probably heard of an embryo? It’s the period of time from conception to around eight weeks of development. Well right at the beginning of an embryo’s development – just 4 or 5 days after it is created, it’s called a blastocyst. A blastocyst is a tiny little cluster of cells that has an inner cell mass. When you hear about embyronic stem cells, it means the cells are taken from the inner cell mass of the blastocyst. The picture above shows how the stem cells are cultured from the inner cell mass. If you remember from the first blog post in Stem Cells For Beginners, they are undifferentiated. You can see above where these undifferentiated stem cells then differentiate into the three specialized cells above. That was one of the unique things about stem cells.

Fetal Stem Cells

After eight weeks of growth, the embryo is called a fetus. The term fetal stem cells simply means that the stem cells are taken from the fetus.

Adult Stem Cells

Adult Stem Cells

You might have already guessed where these come from – adult stem cells are taken from adult tissues. You can see in the picture on the right here some of the places in the body that researchers have found adult stem cells. Researchers are still hoping to identify them in many more adult tissues.

Cord Blood Stem Cells

After a baby is born, its umbilical cord is detached. The umbilical cord and placenta both hold cord blood, which contains a valuable source of stem cells.

Your Knowledge Is Increasing!

So, now you know why stem cells are considered unique and you also know some of their sources – what next? Soon, we’ll see how embryonic, fetal, adult and cord blood stem cells are so different. And if you haven’t already gotten a hint at where the controversy comes in, you’ll definitely get some hints on my next blog post about stem cells. We’re almost up to the very controversial part of stem cell use. And I can tell you, it’s one rocky ride.

Credit: The National Academy of Sciences has kindly allowed the images to be reprinted on the weird science blog.  Check out the original link here called Understanding Stem Cells, courtesy of the National Academies Press in Washington, D.C.


1. Gene - June 30, 2008

thx for creating this blog
very informative
and easy to understand

2. Miss Weird Scientist - June 30, 2008

You’re welcome. Stem cells are one of my favorite subjects but they are also complicated, which can leave people ignoring the topic entirely.

3. Lizzy - August 14, 2008

Thank you so much for this!
It really helped me with my biology coursework; thank goodness you wrote it, nowhere else seems to explain stem cells in detail. They just assume that I know what a blasocyst is…
Thanks again.

4. georgia - September 19, 2008

like it

5. alyshia - October 2, 2008

it was alright
wanna help me with m science project on stem cells
send me stuf about it
at lyshialovezyou@yahoo.com

-a desperate 9th grader

6. bob - December 7, 2008

WOW!!! what an amazing blog. I have retrieved so much information from this website, where do you get all your knowledge from??? i used to find stem cells really confusing but now after reading this blog i have really understood what are stem cells and where they come from. Fantastic blog. well done and keep the good work going! Thanks a lot.

7. Miss Weird Scientist - December 8, 2008

Bob: My information comes from lots of sources. I might see something interesting in the news and then I’ll read up on the study to find out more about the research. I also have a couple of favorite science writers – both have blogs that I read regularly.

I’m glad you’ve got a grasp on what stem cells are because I’ve always felt that the media generally leaves out important basic information on the subject. This means that readers can be lost and struggling to make sense of the new research because they don’t understand the very fundamental science behind stem cells.

8. Issy, UK - December 14, 2008

you don’t know how much you just helped me with coursework… cheers for the pictures!

9. Lauren - January 7, 2009

This has helped me so much on my school work
Thank you

10. Kathy - January 24, 2009

I don’t go to school, but I do have a spinal cord injury! I knew it could help me one day, and knew the basics about it, but I never knew it in such depth. Plus I just found out yesterday that the president passed the bill for it to go through! So thank you so much for the information!

11. jassie - March 8, 2009

im doing my senior
research project on stem
cells! a controversy if its
good or bad
i need help D:
please help me

12. cathy - March 16, 2009

hy… evrt1 i’m dng my project on hematopoietic stem cells. plz help me in collectn articles,if u knw any wed addrz or any othr source plz do infrm me..

13. Dominic - March 18, 2009

So if we don’t need an embrio then why the hell did Obama sighn for embrio research…. thats just creating more controversy!

14. Miss Weird Scientist - March 21, 2009

Dominic: Great comment and question! You’re now leading us into the key differences between the different kinds of stem cells. I think it’s time for me to do another stem cell post, in fact, to give a primer on the benefits and challenges of using the different kinds of stem cells.

Basically, embryonic stem cells are true ‘master’ cells in that they can differentiate and proliferate quite easily into all of the specialized cells in your body. Adult stem cells, however, don’t differentiate quite so easily. Some new research has been looking at ‘reprogramming’ adult stem cells into an embryonic-like state. So, it’s sort of like rewinding the adult cells into that fresh, healthy embryonic state, so we can get all of the benefits of embryonic stem cells even though we start out with adult ones. Confused yet? Hehe. It’s a complicated subject, I know.

But, until we can harness all of the potential from adult cells that embryonic stem cells offer, many people believe there’s a scientific need to continue developing stem cell therapies from embryonic stem cells. At the same time, it’s so controversial as you say! So, we also need to keep looking at ways to get more out of adult stem cells, which can steer us away from the debate over embryonic stem cells.

Hopefully, that makes some sense! :)

15. zainab - April 15, 2009

i had to terminate 5 of my pregnancies because of hydrops and nuchal tnickness , i have a baby who is six years old and healthy and iam pregnant again with 12 weeks but i think even this fetus have some problem iam adviced to come for a scan again on 26 of this month as the fetus was not moving as compare to the other fetus .i just wanted to know can i use the other expecting mothers stem cells and save it 4 my daughter
ur answer will be really very helpful to me.

16. pranay - May 4, 2009

I have the problem of muscular destrophy,i cant even stand up,can stem cells really cure my problem,if yes then how much can it help me

17. cara o. SC, USA - September 19, 2010

thank you so much i have to a report on stem cell growth and i appreciate this!

18. Miss Weird Scientist - September 22, 2010

Cara: You’re very welcome. I’m happy to hear the blog post helped.

19. Betsy - December 20, 2010

Great blog post, maybe you should add a section on dental stem cells? (that’s what I was looking for)

20. Thomas - March 1, 2011

How can I learn to harvest Fetal Stem Cells. My wife is dying of breast cancer and I need to give her fetal stem cell treatment.. how do I get them or harvest them ??

21. mike - March 14, 2011

How do you take stem cells out of a bodie?

22. Sierra - November 17, 2011

Is is legal now for you to do stem cell research? Would it be possible for paralyzed peoples to walk again?? Please answer back this is for a project due soon.

23. jane - April 25, 2012

really helped with my paper.

24. Roberta - August 18, 2012

Greetings! This is my first comment here so I just wanted
to give a quick shout out and tell you I really enjoy reading your blog posts.
Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that cover the same
subjects? Thank you!

25. Cherry - September 14, 2012

This has been really helpful for my science assignment, thanks! I’ll be looking forward to the next blog post about stem cells.

26. Carly - February 17, 2013

Thanks for making this blog. Society just asumes 7th graders know EVERYTHING about stem cells. Your blog made it easy to understand- thanks

27. trish - February 24, 2013

why then can we not ask mothers to donate the cord and after birth to this stem cell society to help other people out there

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s