Cells and Organs

See how the structures of organs and cells are directly related to their specialist functions.

  • Credit: Paul Wilkinson


We have developed a series of clips to explore the Life Fantastic with your students. The pages are intended for use as a prompt to help you prepare when exploring these topics in lessons. Teachers have told us that the videos and questions best suit being used as a topic introduction.

On this page you will find an overview of the topic covered by the clips, a brief summary of each clip, related questions and how the topic links to the curriculum. This is one of eight available resources on developmental biology. For more topics see the teaching resources list.


Topics in the video

  • Identify the differences between organs at the structural level
  • Explain how the structure of an organ is related to its function
  • Understand that cells and organs are specialised to their particular functions
  • Explain how the specialisation shown by an organ is related to the specialisation of the cells that make it up
  • Consider how stem cells may be used to create specialised cells and the advantages and disadvantages of the technology

The material in this resource is supported by video clips from the CHRISTMAS LECTURES 2013.

Curriculum links:

This resource is suitable for Key Stages 3 and 4 and AS/A2 level. Full curriculum links are given at the bottom of the page.

Clip 1 - Special organs

In this clip from the CHRISTMAS LECTURE Where do I come from?, Alison Woollard displays a selection of real organs. Alison shows how these organs are complex and that their structure relates directly to their function – hearts are muscular and beat many times throughout life, lungs contain a very large area to absorb oxygen and brains are highly folded...

Running Time: 3 min 44 secs

Summary and background questions

  • What is the main job of the heart/lungs/brain? (Pumping organ, 0:44; inflatable organ that you breathe with, 1:24; full of neurons that connect with each other 3:20)
  • Name some of the structures within the heart/lungs/brain. How is the structure related to its function?

Questions for wider discussion

  • Think of some other organs in our bodies. What might be special about the shape of the intestine? How might that help its function?
  • What tissues might be included in an organ such as the stomach? Are these tissues found in any of the organs in the video?

Clip 2 - Special cells

The cells that form the organs are complex and specialised themselves; neurons are long and spindly and reach out to make many connections, cilia have microscopic hairs on their surface that move in time to sweep dirt out of our lungs and heart muscle cells beat together to create the strong beats of the full heart. Alison and her guest, Beata, discuss how stem cells were used to create these cardiomyocytes and how that technique could be used in medicine in the future. Meanwhile ‘Embryo cam’ shows an embryo developing in real time in the theatre – a cell divides during the interview.

Total Running Time: 5 min 11 secs

Cardiomyocytes: begin at 2:05

Summary and background questions

  • What is special about the shape of the neurons? (Long and many spines, 0:33)
  • How are the neurons adapted for their information-transmitting function?
  • What do the cilia do? (Sweep dirt and mucus from the lungs, 1:37)
  • How are the cells shown specialised for their function?
  • What is the name of the type of cell that Beata brings on? (Beating heart cells or cardiomyocytes, 2:43)
  • What is the name of the type of cell from which the cardiomyocytes were created? (Stem cells, 2:51)
  • How might cardiomyocytes be used in the future? (to repair the heart after heart attack and test new medicines, 3:31)
  • Look at the developing embryo on the screen behind Alison. Can you identify the nucleus of each cell? (from 3:46)
  • What type of cell division is occurring in the embryo? (Mitosis)

Questions for wider discussion

  • Apart from the cells in the video, what different cells might you find in the heart/lungs/brain?
  • The cardiomyocyte section gives the possibility for an open discussion on the advantages, disadvantages and ethics of stem cell use in medicine.

Curriculum links


Conforming to ‘Structure and function of living organisms: Cells and organisation’, this resource expands on the concept of cells as the fundamental unit of living organisms by showing that cells are different in different organs. The clips look in detail at the specialisms of three cells, discussing this in the context of the organisation of multicellular organisms: from cells to organs.


The clips give three examples of the specialised function of cells (neurons, cilia, cardiomyocytes) and the organs (brain, lungs, heart) in which they are found and are all described within the concept of hierarchical organisation. This ties in to:

  • Edexcel GCSE Biology 2BI01/Additional Science 2SA01 Unit B2 Topic 3 ‘Common systems’ 3.9-10
  • AQA GCSE Biology 4401/Additional Science 4408 Unit 2: Biology 2 B2.1 ‘Cells and simple transport’ and B2.2 ‘Tissues, organs and organ systems’
  • OCR GCSE Biology A J243/Additional Science A J242 Unit A162 Module B5 ‘How do organisms develop?’ B5.1, 1-2;
  • AQA GCSE Science B 4450 Unit 2: My Family and Home section ‘Human Inheritance and genetic disorders’ and the study of animal cells.

The generation of specialised cells from stem cells is presented towards the end of the clip and provides an example of the use of stem cells for:

  • Edexcel GCSE Biology 2BI01/Additional Science 2SA01 Unit B2 Topic 1 ‘The building blocks of cells’ 1.20-21
  • AQA GCSE Biology 4401/Additional Science 4408 Unit 2: Biology 2 B2.7.1 ‘Cell division’;
  • OCR GCSE Biology A J243/Science A J241 Unit A161 Module B1 ‘How is a clone made?’ B1.4, 5-7.


The clips give three examples of the specialised function of cells (neurons, cilia, cardiomyocytes) and the organs (brain, lungs, heart) in which they are found. The resource gives a framework to consider the organisation of cells into organs and for an illustration of cellular structure for:

  • AQA GCE Biology AS 1411 Unit 2 BIOL2 ‘The variety of living organisms’ section 3.2.3 and 3.2.6;
  • OCR GCE Biology AS Unit F211 Module 1 ‘Cells’ section 1.1.3.

The clips also provide a backdrop for a discussion on uses of stem cells for:

  • AQA GCE Biology A2 2411 Unit 5 BIOL5 3.5.7;
  • OCR GCE Biology AS Unit F211 Module 1 ‘Cells’ section 1.1.3.

Related content

Learn about the cell cycle in our interactive, educational game.

Play The Cell Cycle

Use these resources on TED-Ed

TED-Ed: Special organs

TED-Ed: Special cells

Watch the full lectures

View the full CHRISTMAS LECTURES, Life Fantastic, along with behind the scenes footage, and related content, at the Ri Channel (www.richannel.org).