Development encompasses the programme of events that begins with fertilization and culminates in complex multicellular organisms like ourselves. Every cell in the adult organism has a distinct life history (Module 8: Figure cellular life history) that can be traced back to the process of maturation that is responsible for the formation of the two gametes that then fuse during fertilization to form the zygote. Fertilization provides a potent mitogenic stimulus, and the zygote enters the cell cycle repeatedly and is rapidly transformed into a multicellular embryo. As development proceeds and the number of cells in the embryo increases, groups of cells are progressively apportioned distinct fates through a process of cell specification. During the final process of cell differentiation, each cell begins to express its unique specialized cell function that enables it to contribute to the operation of different organ systems. This process of differentiation is associated with the cessation of growth, which may be either permanent (e.g. nerves and muscle) or temporary (e.g. lymphocytes, fibroblasts, liver cells, salivary glands, endothelial cells and smooth muscle). In the latter case, the cells that have their growth arrested temporarily retain the ability to return to the cell cycle when stimulated with the appropriate growth factor. Finally, cells die and this can occur either through some catastrophic event, such as necrosis, or through a more controlled programme of cell death known as apoptosis. The typical life history of a cell thus comprises a series of processes:
Maturation–the formation of mature gametes (spermatozoa and oocytes).
Fertilization–the fusion of gametes and the initiation of development.
Cell proliferation–rapid rounds of cell growth and cell division.
Cell specification–cell determination and pattern formation.
Differentiation–the formation of specialized cells.
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