The key difference between differentiation and morphogenesis is that differentiation describes how cells become specialized in order to carry out unique functions, while morphogenesis describes the development of the forms of living organisms.
Multicellular organisms begin their life from one cell, either form a spore or a zygote. Therefore, cell differentiation and morphogenesis are two different and major processes that occur during the development of a multicellular organism. Differentiation is the process of forming different specialized cell types. It leads to the maturation of cells and tissues that perform specific functions for an organism. On the other hand, morphogenesis is the process of developing different forms of living organisms. It determines the shape of cells, tissues, organs or organisms.
1. Overview and Key Difference
2. What is Differentiation
3. What is Morphogenesis
4. Similarities Between Differentiation and Morphogenesis
5. Side by Side Comparison – Differentiation vs Morphogenesis in Tabular Form
What is Differentiation?
Cell differentiation is the process of forming a variety of cell types. It is an essential process to produce many specialized cell types that make up the tissues and organs of multicellular animals. Differentiated cells have specific functions to fulfil. Once they are differentiated, the rate of proliferation decreases. Furthermore, they lose the ability of cell differentiation. These cells remain in the G0 stage of the cell cycle without proliferating. Cell differentiation is finely controlled by gene regulation. Moreover, cell interactions, hormones and environmental factors can control the cell differentiation.
Cell potency determines the ability of cell differentiation. Totipotent, pluripotent, multipotent and unipotent are four types of cell potencies. Totipotent cells can differentiate into all cell types, while pluripotent cells also can give rise to all cells of the tissues of the body. However, compared to totipotent cells, the ability of pluripotent cells is less. Multipotent cells can differentiate into many cell types, while unipotent cells can give rise to one specialized cell type.
What is Morphogenesis?
Morphogenesis is the process that leads to the development of its shape. In other words, it is the biological process that causes an organism to attain its shape. It is one of the three fundamental aspects of developmental biology. Therefore, morphogenesis is responsible for the development of complex shapes of adults from the cells derived from a fertilized egg.
When considering tissues and organs, morphogenesis is the process of acquiring their shapes which are critical to their function. In fact, morphogenesis is responsible for tissue and organ organization that decides the anatomy, physiology and behaviour of an organism. Most importantly, morphogenesis requires the spatial and temporal control of embryo mechanics to facilitate cell movement and conformational changes.
Some examples that explain morphogenesis are listed below.
- A new plant changes its shape to a straight plant, branching plant or a twining plant.
- Human intestine folds many times in order to fit into the body.
- Human kidney branches to maximize its function.
What are the Similarities Between Differentiation and Morphogenesis?
- Cell differentiation and morphogenesis play huge roles in the development of organisms.
- Both processes are fundamental aspects of developmental biology.
- Basically, both take place in multicellular organisms.
What is the Difference Between Differentiation and Morphogenesis?
Cellular differentiation refers to the process by which cells become specialized into different types with different functions. Morphogenesis is the process that determines the shape of an organism. So, this is the key difference between differentiation and morphogenesis. Furthermore, cell differentiation basically takes place at the cellular level. But, morphogenesis takes place at tissue, organ or organism level. Therefore, this is another between differentiation and morphogenesis.
Moreover, cell differentiation is controlled by transcription factors, while morphogenesis is controlled by the spatial and temporal control of embryo mechanics. Also, cell movements play an important role in morphogenesis, unlike differentiation.
Summary – Differentiation vs Morphogenesis
Cell differentiation is the process of producing specialized cell types that have clear-cut identities, such as muscle cells, nerve cells, and skin cells, etc. These cell types are specialized to perform unique functions. In contrast, morphogenesis is the shaping of form. It is the process that causes an organism to develop its shape. So, this is the key difference between differentiation and morphogenesis.
1. Bard, Jonathan. “Morphogenesis.” Scholarpedia, Available here.
2. “Cell Differentiation and Tissue .” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, Available here.
1. “Stem cell differentiation” By Haileyfournier – Own work incorporating (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Liver bud morphogenesis” By Zorn, A.M., Liver development (October 31, 2008), StemBook, ed. The Stem Cell Research Community, StemBook, doi/10.3824/stembook.1.25.1 (CC BY 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia
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