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The extraembryonic membranes that surround and originate from the embryos of vertebrates such as birds, reptiles, and mammals are crucial to their development. They are integral to increasing the surface area of the uterus, forming the chorion (which in turn produces the placenta) and the amnion, respectively. The amnion will ultimately surround the embryo in a fluid-filled amniotic cavity. This amniotic fluid, which cushions and protects the fetus and helps prevent the onset of labor, is sampled in amniocentesis to screen for genetic diseases.
Embryogenesis is an intricate process that can easily be disrupted by means of teratogenic agents. Some of these agents target the embryonic period's "window of susceptibility," three to eight weeks after a pregnant woman's last menstruation, when the highest degree of sensitivity to embryonic cell differentiation and organ formation occurs. The embryonic period or critical period is when most organ systems form, whereas the fetal period, week eight to birth, involves the growth and modeling of the organ systems.