The stratum germinativum is the deepest layer of the epidermis. It is also referred to as the basal layer of the skin. The epidermis is another name for the outermost layer of skin in humans as well as other mammals. The primary function of this region is to assist in the regeneration of the epidermis.
The type of cells provided to the epidermis by the stratum germinativum are known as germinal cells. A germinal cell is simply a cell from which other cells are derived. The germinal cells developed in this layer are kept separate from the dermis by a thin membrane. The dermis makes up the majority of the thickness of the skin.
Once a cell that has originated in the stratum germinativum undergoes what is known as a mitotic division, the new cell will go through a process known as keratinization as it makes its way to the surface. Mitotic division is another term for the process of mitosis. Mitosis is the name given to the type of cell division that causes one cell to divide, thus creating more cells that are identical in nature to the original cell.
The process of keratinization turns a substance into keratin. Keratin is a type of scleroprotein and is found in various places within the body. In the case of the stratum germinativum, keratin is important to the overall health of the skin. Keratin helps keep the skin waterproof while assisting other substances, such as elastin and collagen, to give the skin the strength it needs in order to function properly.
The stratum germinativum has been found to play an important role in healing certain types of injuries to the skin, particularly thermal injuries. Scientific study involving this layer have dramatically increased the success rates of skin grafts, particularly those necessary due to third degree burns. Early skin grafts only included the top two layers of skin. Once it was discovered that skin growth and repair occur much easier and much more quickly when using the stratum germinativum, skin grafting techniques became more successful and able to be more widely used.
The more modern and successful methods of skin grafting employ the use of a layer of stratum germinativum cells. These cells are then attached to a layer of artificial skin. Other cells are attached to this basic structure at a later time. This technique has led to major medical advances in the treatment of thermal injury to the skin.