Poem a day #24 – Haematopoietry

oldest woman

An article in yesterday’s New Scientist (here) summarises the results of the analysis of the blood and tissues of the woman who, when she died in 2005, was the oldest woman in the world. Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper (above) was from the Netherlands. She reached the great age of 115, and bequeathed her body to medical science.

The scientists found that “about two-thirds of the white blood cells remaining in her body at death originated from just two stem cells, implying that most or all of the blood stem cells she started life with had already burned out and died.”  We start life with around 20,000 blood stem cells. They also observed that her ” white blood cells had drastically worn-down telomeres – the protective tips on chromosomes that burn down like wicks each time a cell divides.”

This wonderful diagram called “The Tree of Blood“, shows how blood stem cells differentiate into mature blood cells.



Haematopoietry *

At first

twenty thousand

stem cells

renewing, dividing,

mutating benignly

resisting corruption

restoring her blood.


One by one

losing heart,

wicks burnt,

telomeres frayed,

potency spent,

her cells surrender.


At last

just two survive,

the mother cells,

pushing the limits,

holding out,

to the end.


* Haematopoiesis (from Greek αἷμα, "blood" and ποιεῖν "to make") is 
the formation of blood cellular components.
© Mike Hopkins 2014



6 thoughts on “Poem a day #24 – Haematopoietry

  1. It makes you wonder how much of your original body you have left by the time you die… I mean even a scar would have had its cells replaced several times wouldn’t it?

  2. the cells may be 7 to 10 years old, but the atoms that constitute said cells are constantly changing. I remember ready that not a single atom in “my” (for illustrative sense) body was a part of my body a year ago. Good argument against the notion of being “stuck in a rut”…

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