Stem Cell Lineages: Between Cell and Organism

Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology 9 (6) (2017)
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Abstract

Ontologies of living things are increasingly grounded on the concepts and practices of current life science. Biological development is a process, undergone by living things, which begins with a single cell and (in an important class of cases) ends with formation of a multicellular organism. The process of development is thus prima facie central for ideas about biological individuality and organismality. However, recent accounts of these concepts do not engage developmental biology. This paper aims to fill the gap, proposing the lineage view of stem cells as an ontological framework for conceptualizing organismal development. This account is grounded on experimental practices of stem cell research, with emphasis on new techniques for generating biological organization in vitro. On the lineage view, a stem cell is the starting point of a cell lineage with a specific organismal source, time-interval of existence, and ‘tree topology’ of branch-points linking the stem to developmental termini. The concept of ‘enkapsis’ accommodates the cell-organism relation within the lineage view; this hierarchical notion is further explicated by considering the methods and results of stem cell experiments. Results of this examination include a (partial) characterization of stem cells’ developmental versatility, and the context-dependence of developmental processes involving stem cells.

Author's Profile

Melinda Bonnie Fagan
University of Utah

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