Germ Cells in Humans: Definition & Concept

Germ Cells in Humans: Definition & Concept
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  • 0:01 What Are Germ Cells?
  • 1:44 The Human Germline
  • 3:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Lynn Swafford

Lynn has a BS and MS in biology and has taught many college biology courses.

Although you may think germ cells have something to do with getting sick, this is 100% not true. This lesson defines germ cells and provides an overview of their processes.

What Are Germ Cells?

When you hear the word germ, you probably think of harmful viruses and bacteria. However, a germ cell has nothing to do with disease-causing germs. To get started, let's take a look at the two major categories of cells in humans:

  1. Somatic cells are any body cells that are not involved in reproduction.
  2. Germ cells are cells that create reproductive cells called gametes.

Most cells in your body are somatic cells. They include skin cells, bone cells, red blood cells, and many more. Somatic cells are diploid, which means that they have two entire sets of chromosomes. In humans, diploid cells have a total of 46 chromosomes.

Germ cells are also diploid, but they are found only in the gonads. Gonads are the ovaries in females and testes in males. In these organs, females make gametes called eggs, and males make gametes called sperm. Gametes are haploid cells, which means that they have only one set of chromosomes. In humans, gametes have 23 chromosomes.

Diploid germ cells must undergo many rounds of cell division and create many new cells in order to produce haploid gametes. This entire sequence of cells from germ cell to gamete is called a germline. Two types of cell division occur in germline cells:

  1. Mitosis involves one round of cell division and makes an exact copy of a cell.
  2. Meiosis involves two rounds of cell division and produces cells with half the number of chromosomes as the original cell.

Meiosis only occurs in germline cells and not somatic cells. Let's look at the different types of germline cells in humans.

The Human Germline

Germline cells have different names in males and females. In males, all germline cells start with the term 'sperm.' In contrast, all the female germline cells start with the letter 'O.' Let's take a look at a handy table that lists the cells in both the male and female germlines.

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