Mature organisms have stem cells of various sorts, called adult stem cells. Adult stem cells supply cells that compensate for the loss of cells from normal cell death and turnover, such as the ever-dying cells of our skin, our blood, and the lining of our gut. They are also an essential source of cells for healing and regeneration in response to injury. Some animals, such as sea stars, newts, and flatworms, are capable of dramatic feats of regeneration, producing replacement limbs, eyes, or most of a body. It is an evolutionary puzzle why mammals have more limited powers of regeneration.
Researchers are interested in pinpointing where adult stem cells reside and in understanding how flexible adult stem cells are in their ability to produce divergent cells such as muscle and red blood cells. Understanding the sources and the rules for the differentiation of adult stem cells is essential for tapping their therapeutic potential. Since consenting adults can provide adult stem cells, some people think that adult stem cells may be a less controversial area of research than embryonic stem cells.