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Figure 10. Cell fusion might be...Click to Enlarge Image

Cells are justly considered the integral units of life, but accumulating evidence shows that they don't always remain separate and distinct. As early as the 1840s, cells with multiple nuclei, as in muscle, were seen to form by the fusion of precursor cells. In the 1960s, biologists were able to force cells to fuse in the lab. In the last two years, researchers have shown that donor bone marrow cells injected into mice or humans can fuse with the cells of various organs. Recently, after injecting human bone marrow cells into fetal pigs, the authors observed that even cells from different species can fuse, forming cells with single blended nuclei. Such cell fusion could allow the transfer of diseases across species; for example, pig endogenous retroviral sequences were transferred to the partly human cells. It's also possible that cell fusion is a long overlooked part of normal development; cell fusion could potentially be a way of generating complexity within an organism.

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