Biological Theory

, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 48–58 | Cite as

Stem Cells and the Temporal Boundaries of Development: Toward a Species-Dependent View

  • Lucie LaplaneEmail author
Original Paper


The tacit standard view that development ends once reproductive capacity is acquired (reproductive boundary, or “RB,” thesis) has recently been challenged by biologists and philosophers of biology arguing that development continues until death (death boundary, or “DB,” thesis). The relevance of these two theses is difficult to assess because the fact that there is no precise definition of development makes the determination of its temporal boundaries problematic. Taking into account this difficulty, this article tries to develop a new species-dependent perspective on temporal boundaries of development. This species-dependent account stands against both RB and DB theses since neither of them reflects the differences between species in the temporality of their development. In this perspective, I propose to use stem cells as a tool to analyze (1) the different developmental capacities of an organism during its life; and (2) the different developmental temporal capacities between species. In particular, I will show that stem cells enable four distinct temporal developmental patterns to be distinguished, i.e., four distinct temporal boundaries of development in the living. I show how these four patterns can be interpreted differently depending on the perspective one has on the definition of development.


Asexual reproduction Boundary Definition Development Differentiation Division Regeneration Stem cells 



I am grateful to Michel Morange, Antonine Nicoglou, Thomas Pradeu, Frédérique Théry, and Michel Vervoort for the collective work that we have done together and for the critical reading of this manuscript. I am also thankful to Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent, Jean Gayon, Thierry Hoquet, Jane Maienschein, and Francesca Merlin for their critical reading of the manuscript. I address a special thanks to Thierry Hoquet for formulating development as “le temps qui traverse les corps” (“the time which passes through the body”), a formulation that has greatly influenced the articulation of this article around the TDPs. Finally, I want to thank Charles Durand, Jean Gayon, Thierry Hoquet, Thierry Jaffredo, Francesca Merlin, and Valérie Ngo-Muller for useful discussions. My work is supported by the Cancéropôle and the University Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense.


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Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity Paris Ouest Nanterre La DéfenseNanterreFrance
  2. 2.Department of Human SciencesGustave Roussy HospitalVillejuifFrance

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