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The term is often used in biology to refer to the cells of the body in contrast to the germ line cells which usually give rise to the gametes (ovum or sperm). These somatic cells are diploid containing two copies of each chromosome, whereas the germ cells are haploid as they only contain one copy of each chromosome. Although under normal circumstances all somatic cells in an organism contain identical DNA, they develop a variety of tissue-specific characteristics. This process is called differentiation, through epigenetic and regulatory alterations. The grouping of like cells and tissues creates the foundation for organs.
Somatic is also defined as relating to the wall of the body cavity, particularly as distinguished from the head, limbs or viscera.
- "Somatic", def. 1. Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition on CD-ROM (v. 4.0) © Oxford University Press 2009
- Online Etymological Dictionary
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