Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Complementarity between structure and function, part II – the squamous cell

Have you ever seen a squamous cell? You have? Good, because it is my topic for today. I thought I will take a break from looking for something Christmassy to looking at complementarity between structure and function once again. As I mentioned before, this complementarity is a recurring theme in biology so I’m sure we will not ran out of examples. So today is the turn of squamous cells.

Squamous cell is a term given to describe a cell that is thin and flat when viewed from the side and is tile-like (the old-style, honeycomb-like tile) when viewed from the top. This cell never occurs alone but is found in the body as a single layer of cells or as multiple layers of cells.

If occurring as only a single layer of cells, their main function is for rapid exchange of materials. Thus they can be found lining the alveolar sacs of our lungs and the inner lining of blood vessels. When arranged as multiple layers of cells however, they assume a protective function. In this case, we can therefore expect to find them on the surface of our skin, the exposed portions of our digestive tubes, the exposed portions of our reproductive system and any other exposed parts of our body.

Since these layers of cells are always exposed to all kinds of wear and tear, they are thus prone to infections and even cancer. I’m sure you have heard of squamous cell carcinoma or cancer of squamous cells.

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