As creatures of the light, it is natural for us to fear the dark unknown of death. However, if we only knew how prevalent death is in our lives, perhaps we would not be so afraid or disgusted by it. For it is death that keeps our body running functionally, and giving the organ systems physical definition, enabling them to work properly. The building blocks of our bodies-- cells-- are alive and constantly growing, and if they continued to do so without pause, our organ systems would become enlarged and misshapen, and we as an unified organism would die. Therefore, our cells commit suicide on a regular basis via programmed cell death, more commonly referred to as apoptosis; this is done either to cull excess cells to give way to new ones, or when cells start malfunctioning and don’t want to reproduce. Apoptosis should not be confused with its foil, cell necrosis, which is is another death system that kicks in when cells and tissues are dealt trauma, and it is highly irregular, as opposed to the regulated apoptosis. Each death system has its own purposes in the body, and the interruptions of these small deaths can ultimately lead to the death of the entire organism-- life is not merely followed by death-- it is supported by it.
The apoptosis process is a fairly recent medical discovery, as intensive research had only begun in the late 1900s, leading Drs Brenner, Horvitz and Sutton to their ground-breaking discoveries in the field, earning them the Nobel Prize in Medicine (Hung and Chow, 2004). Their research began in Caenorhabditis elegans, which has more simple DNA and body processes than mammals. However, it was soon discovered that the genes which regulate apoptosis in the nematode are similar to those in large organisms, including humans. Of course, the more developed an organism is, the more complex their apoptotic systems are. Although the processes remain similar, more complex animals possess more proteins and other structures which regulate the apoptotic process (Twomey and McCarthy, 2005).
Apoptosis occurs for a variety of reasons, beginning when an organism is in the embryonic state, up until the point of death. Most embryonic apoptosis is morphological (Joza, 2001) and is responsible for the culling of excess neurons, eye development and the differentiation of bones and cartilage to produce limbs (Hung and Chow, 2004). Apoptosis also occurs when specific cells are not functioning properly and self-destruct so as not to reproduce and have more malfunctioning cells (Hung and Chow, 2004). As was mentioned before, necrosis, which is also a death system, only occurs in severely damaged or traumatized cells, and it is not a structured process.
General features of apoptosis
However, despite the various genetic instigators of apoptosis and the specific proteins involved in carrying it out, the general features of apoptosis are the same across the board (Hung and Chow, 2004). Apoptosis itself is a process which requires the active...