What keeps Woody Allen alive? Mitosis.

12 Oct

Woody Allen is alive.  Woody Allen is made out of cells.  And as long as he’s around to anguish over what life is all about, mitosis will keep Woody Allen ticking.

Mitosis in detail

Photo by Flickr user Electrolux Appliances.

Mitosis is the basic way in which everything in life gets duplicated and refreshed.

It’s the process by which a cell replicates its DNA and divides it into two equal parts.  This allows one “mother” cell to split into two “daughter” cells.

Right now in Woody Allen’s hair, for example, there are mother cells– think of them as Jewish mother cells if you like– and they’re sitting around saying, “Agh. I’m getting old. I’m getting tired.  I’m about to die.  How do I get this stuff out of my house and out to my kids?”

So a signal goes out that prompts that hair cell to double its contents whole hog.

The cell gets bigger, it does this division dance, and the sides of the cell’s membrane start to pinch in before the whole big mama cell divides and becomes two fresh daughter cells.

Woody Allen’s old hair cells began with 23 pairs of chromosomes and, after dividing, the daughter cells ended up with the exact same set.

That’s happening in Woody Allen and in your body right now, not just in your hair, but in your skin, in your blood, in your bones—almost everywhere.

Why it matters

Mitosis helps us understand how an embryo develops and how a person ages.  It also helps us understand cancers: We know, for example, that X-rays taken at the hospital or UV rays beamed down from the sun cause our mitotic mechanisms to break down.

In a poetic way, mitosis can also help us understand the circle of life.  It is life beginning, and life renewing itself in the face of death.

To be clear, though, the Jewish mother cell does not exactly die.  She goes through a death-change-transformation-process, sort of like Tolkien’s Gandalf, whose death from falling into an abyss results in his promotion to Gandalf the White, a more healthy and powerful wizard than ever.  The Jewish mother cell ceases to be, but she transforms into two daughter cells, which is a pretty neat trick.

Mitosis transforms us from 1-celled-things into 100-trillion-celled things. To read about the development of a 1-celled thing into a 128-celled thing, jump to this post.


One Response to “What keeps Woody Allen alive? Mitosis.”


  1. What are my genes (and proteins) doing now? « Genetics & Parenthood - July 6, 2011

    […] mitosis, my older cells are, right now as I write this sentence, duplicating their genetic information so […]

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