Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"Once upon a time there was a cell" (premi El·lipse)

As you may remember in a previous post I copied the text that won the "El·lipse award", organised by the PRBB last year for the first time. Here you can find one of the runner-ups, "Once upon a time there was a cell"

David Mateos, 2nd honourable mention from El·lipse Prize of
Scientific Dissemination, in the category of written work

Once upon a time there was a cell

Once upon a time there was a cell that was torn between two conflicting destinations. Unlike most of the cells who had but just one marked destiny (to turn into a liver cell, a red blood cell or even into one of those cells inside the nose, the ones having a hair growing from them), this cell had many possibilities. It lived in the spinal cord and, depending on how it would decide to divide itself it could turn into a red blood cell, into a platelet or into a cell of the immune system. And even if it didn't want to turn into any specific cellular type, it could continue dividing itself eternally, maintaining its undifferentiated state. This capacity to give raise to so many different cells made it earn the nickname of ‘stem cell’.

But the pluri-potency didn't make our cell happy. It was tired of dividing itself constantly without knowing what cellular type to rise to, but on the other hand, it didn't quite understand the differences amongst the different type of blood cells that potentially existed in it. “The platelets have a great importance in the blood clotting", it recited in memory from something it had read on wikicell when the body it now lived in was just an embryo and all the cells received the necessary training for their future.

But how to choose that destiny in a permanent way, giving up all the other open doors, without ever having been a platelet and without really understanding what that new life meant in its day to day? It often tried to ask some of the platelets nearby, but these were very shy and didn't dare talk to stem cells for which they felt great respect. It also got no answer from the red blood cells, who felt certain envy towards its capacities.

One day, exhausted due to so much indecision, our stem cell decided to donate her body to science, believing that this way her fate would be sealed forever. What was her surprise when seeing that, once outside the body and already in its new home, a very comfortable Petri dish, its possible destinies were even bigger, infinite in fact!

In hands of the researchers, the cell learned that it couldn't just differentiate into all cellular types it could have given raise in the body, but that with the adequate nutrients the scientists provided it with, it could also turn into cell types it would have never even dreamed of… “I could become an eye cell and see incredible landscapes", the cell imagined. "Although being a sperm would also be funny", it smiled to itself. It didn't matter anymore what it would become, it wasn't only pluri-potent now, but all-potent, it could be anything. It would seem that this wide range of options should scare our tiny cell even more but, ironically, its new situation freed it. It knew that, whatever its future was it would be the scientist's decision and that its life had a meaning that went far beyond itself, that it could give life, cure patients. It thought that its name, ‘stem cell’, would never again just only be a nickname that it disliked and made it feel different to the others, but a name pronounced with affection by humans it would help, a name that made it feel special, privileged.

The cell closed its pores and breathed happily.


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