Apoptosis is a Greek word that translates to “falling off” or “falling away.” It’s often used to describe the natural world: autumn leaves as they tumble from the branch; flower petals wilting and drifting to earth. In Greek, the second “p” is silent, and so the traditional and most correct pronunciation is “ay-paw-TOE-sis.” More recently, some people have pronounced it as an English word: “ay-POP-toe-sis.”
A Natural Ending to Cellular Life
Whichever way you pronounce it, apoptosis is the perfect word to describe a genetically-programmed death that occurs naturally in cells at the end of life, or in cells which have sustained damage or become deranged. This process of “controlled cell deletion” was known for centuries, but not thoroughly explored until 1972, when a landmark paper was published in a British medical journal. Looking for a word that helped distinguish this natural, gentle cell suicide from other forms of cell death (for example, trauma), the paper’s authors consulted with a Greek language professor, who proposed “apoptosis.”
Hiding in Plain Sight
Apoptosis is now mentioned in textbooks, and many of us encountered the word in high school biology class, if only for five minutes. Even so, it is only very recently that we have started acknowledging its importance in health. As the growing market for apoptosis research suggests, we are probably just beginning to understand this critical cellular process.
At Functional Nutriments we turn to the natural world for inspiration and understanding. That’s because while much of modern science is conducted in sterile labs, often the most illuminating insights come from nature itself. For example, Sir Isaac Newton observed apples falling from trees, which started him thinking about what later became known as the law of gravity. At the time, his theory was radical and flew in the face of accepted knowledge.
Today, it’s basic science.
Back to Basic Biology
Even though we need electron microscopes to see apoptosis happening on a cellular level, we hope that someday the word is as widely used and understood as “DNA” or “gravity” is now.
Think of apoptosis the next time you witness a natural end to life, whether it’s in a petal wilting, a leaf turning color, or – like Newton saw – an apple falling.