Cell biology term. You probably know that the DNA of every cell in your body contains your complete genome. But large parts within each cell are not expressed, such that your liver never starts salivating and your eyes don't grow fingernails. This is because, early in fetal development, cells "turn off" most of their genes so that they can specialize. But if we could extract totipotent cells from a human, and control their differentiation, the prospects would be great: vat-grown replacement organs with no chance of immune rejection, neural grafts for people with Parkinson's disease, endless supplies of blood for transfusions, etceterea.

A totipotent cell is called a stem cell. Fetuses have stem cells, and early experiments (unfortunately for those concerned with bioethics, or PR) worked with tissue from abortions. New research suggests that stem cells can also be isolated from umbilical cord blood or placentas, as well as the fat cells and bone marrow of adults. Note that bone marrow does express some flexibility; it is a single substance that can divide into white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.

The word totipotent comes from Latin roots, shared with the English words total and potent (in the sense of having abilities). I don't know of any authors or postmodernists who have used the term metaphorically, but it's just ripe for it...

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