Somatic cell

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A somatic cell is generally taken to mean any cell forming the body of an organism: the word "somatic" is derived from the Greek word sōma (σώμα), meaning "body". Somatic cells, by definition, are not germline cells. In mammals, germline cells are the spermatozoa and ova (also known as "gametes") which fuse during fertilization to produce a cell called a zygote, from which the entire mammalian embryo develops. Every other cell type in the mammalian body—apart from the sperm and ova, the cells from which they are made (gametocytes) and undifferentiated stem cells—is a somatic cell: internal organs, skin, bones, blood, and connective tissue are all made up of somatic cells.

Genetics and chromosome content

A simple definition of a somatic cell is that it is a non-sex cell (a very broad and not always accurate description). In humans, somatic cells contain 46 individual chromosomes, organised into 23 pairs of chromosomes. Each pair comprises a chromosome inherited from the father and the mother. Human somatic cells contain twice as many chromosomes as germline cells (sex cells). Germline cells contain only 23 chromosomes. When the germline cells meet during conception, they "fuse" together, creating a zygote. The sex of the child is dependent on the chromosome the germline cells contains (X or Y). Due to the "fusion" of the germline cells, a zygote contains 46 chromosomes (i.e. 23 pairs).

In other species, the situation is more complex. Humans, and other species whose somatic cells contain chromosomes arranged in pairs, are known as "diploid" organisms (their germline cells, which contain only single unpaired chromosomes, are known as "haploid"). However, a large number of species arrange the chromosomes in their somatic cells in fours ("tetraploid") or even sixes ("hexaploid") which means that they can have diploid or even triploid germline cells. An example of this is the modern cultivated species of wheat, Triticum Aestivum L., a hexaploid species whose somatic cells contain six copies of every chromosome.