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Mesoderm

Mesoderm is one of the three germ layers, groups of cells that interact early during the embryonic life of animals and from which organs and tissues form. As organs form, a process called organogenesis, mesoderm interacts with endoderm and ectoderm to give rise to the digestive tract, the heart and skeletal muscles, red blood cells, and the tubules of the kidneys, as well as a type of connective tissue called mesenchyme. All animals that have only one plane of symmetry through the body, called bilateral symmetry, form three germ layers.

Format: Articles

Subject: Processes

Carnegie Stages

Historically the exact age of human embryo specimens has long perplexed embryologists. With the menstrual history of the mother often unknown or not exact, and the premenstrual and postmenstrual phases varying considerably among women, age sometimes came down to a best guess based on the weight and size of the embryo. Wilhelm His was one of the first to write comparative descriptions of human embryos in the late 1800s. Soon afterward, Franklin P. Mall, the first director of the Carnegie Institution of Washington's (CIW) Department of Embryology, expanded upon His' work.

Format: Articles

Subject: Theories

Arthur Earl Walker (1907-1995)

Arthur Earl Walker was a medical researcher and physician who studied the brain and neurosurgery in the United States during the twentieth century. Walker examined the connections of the thalamus to the rest of the brain and how the thalamus coordinates sensory signals. The thalamus is a cluster of nerve cells located between the two hemispheres of the brain and it is responsible for consciousness and sensory interpretation.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Camillo Golgi (1843–1926)

Camillo Golgi studied the central nervous system during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Italy, and he developed a staining technique to visualize brain cells. Called the black reaction, Golgi’s staining technique enabled him to see the cellular structure of brain cells, called neurons, with much greater precision. Golgi also used the black reaction to identify structures within animal cells like the internal reticular apparatus that stores, packs, and modifies proteins, later named the Golgi apparatus in his honor.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Syncytial Theory

The syncytial theory of neural development was proposed by Victor Hensen in 1864 to explain the growth and differentiation of the nervous system. This theory has since been discredited, although it held a significant following at the turn of the twentieth century. Neural development was well studied but poorly understood, so Hensen proposed a simple model of development. The syncytial theory predicted that the nervous system was composed of many neurons with shared cytoplasm.

Format: Articles

Subject: Theories

Walter Edward Dandy (1886-1946)

Walter Edward Dandy studied abnormalities in the developing human brain in the United States in the twentieth century. He collaborated with pediatrician Kenneth Blackfan to provide the first clinical description of Dandy-Walker Syndrome, a congenital brain malformation in which the medial part of the brain, called the cerebellar vermis, is absent. Dandy also described the circulation of cerebral spinal fluid, the clear, watery fluid that surrounds and cushions the brain and spinal cord.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Agent Orange as a Cause of Spina Bifida

Spina bifida is a birth defect that affects the spines of developing fetuses and infants, and research in the 20th century indicated that chemicals in the herbicide Agent Orange likely lead to the birth defect. People with spina bifida can have nerve damage, paralysis, and mental disabilities. During the Vietnam War in the 1960s, the US military employed Agent Orange and other herbicides to destroy enemy crops and forest cover until 1970.

Format: Articles

Subject: Disorders

Richard Woltereck (1877-1944)

Richard Woltereck was a German zoologist and hydrobiologist who studied aquatic animals and extended the concept of Reaktionsnorm (norm of reaction) to the study of genetics. He also provided some of the first experimental evidence for the early twentieth-century embryological theory of heredity known as cytoplasmic inheritance. Through experiments on the water flea, Daphnia, Woltereck investigated whether variation produced by environmental impacts on development could play a role in heredity and evolution.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Cerebral Organoid as a Model System in the Study of Microcephaly

Scientists use cerebral organoids, which are artificially produced miniature organs that represent embryonic or fetal brains and have many properties similar to them, to help them study developmental disorders like microcephaly. In human embryos, cerebral tissue in the form of neuroectoderm appears within the first nine weeks of human development, and it gives rise to the brain and spinal cord.

Format: Articles

Subject: Technologies

The Interpretation of Development and Heredity (1930), by Edward Stuart Russell

First published in 1930 and reprinted in 1972, Edward Stuart Russell's The Interpretation of Development and Heredity is a work of philosophical and theoretical biology. In this book Russell outlines a methodological and philosophical program aimed at reorienting the biological understanding of development and heredity.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

"The Role of Maternal Mitochondria during Oogenesis, Fertilization and Embryogenesis" (2002), by James M. Cummins

James M Cummins published 'The Role of Maternal Mitochondria during Oogenesis, Fertilization and Embryogenesis' 30 January 2002 in Reproductive BioMedicine Online. In the article, Cummins examines the role of the energy producing cytoplasmic particles, or organelles called mitochondria. Humans inherit mitochondria from their mothers, and mechanisms have evolved to eliminate sperm mitochondria in early embryonic development. Mitochondria contain their own DNA (mtDNA) separate from nuclear DNA (nDNA).

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

Samuel Randall Detwiler (1890-1957)

Samuel Randall Detwiler was an embryologist who studied neural development in embryos and vertebrate retinas. He discovered evidence for the relationship between somites and spinal ganglia, that transplanted limbs can be controlled by foreign ganglia, and the plasticity of ganglia in response to limb transplantations. He also extensively studied vertebrate retinas during and after embryonic development.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

"Experiments on the Development of Chick and Duck Embryos, Cultivated in vitro" (1932), by Conrad Hal Waddington

Conrad Hal Waddington's "Experiments on the Development of Chick and Duck Embryos, Cultivated in vitro," published in 1932 in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B, compares the differences in the development of birds and amphibians. Previous experiments focused on the self differentiation of individual tissues in birds, but Waddington wanted to study induction in greater detail. The limit to these studies had been the amount of time an embryo could be successfully cultivated ex vivo.

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments

"Experiments on Embryonic Induction III. A Note on Inductions by Chick Primitive Streak Transplanted to the Rabbit Embryo" (1934), by Conrad Hal Waddington

Conrad Hal Waddington's "Experiments on Embryonic Induction III," published in 1934 in the Journal of Experimental Biology, describes the discovery that the primitive streak induces the mammalian embryo. Waddington's hypothesis was that a transplanted primitive streak could induce neural tissue in the ectoderm of the rabbit embryo. The primitive streak defines the axis of an embryo and is capable of inducing the differentiation of various tissues in a developing embryo during gastrulation.

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments

Viktor Hamburger (1900-2001)

Viktor Hamburger was an embryologist who focused on neural development. His scientific career stretched from the early 1920s as a student of Hans Spemann to the late 1980s at Washington University resolving the role of nerve growth factor in the life of neurons. Hamburger is noted for his systematic approach to science and a strict attention to detail. Throughout his life he maintained an interest in nature and the arts, believing both were important to his scientific work.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Hedgehog Signaling Pathway

The hedgehog signaling pathway is a mechanism that directs the development of embryonic cells in animals, from invertebrates to vertebrates. The hedgehog signaling pathway is a system of genes and gene products, mostly proteins, that convert one kind of signal into another, called transduction. In 1980, Christiane Nusslein-Volhard and Eric F. Wieschaus, at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, identified several fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) genes.

Format: Articles

Subject: Processes

David H. Hubel and Torsten N. Wiesel’s Research on Optical Development in Kittens

During 1964, David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel studied the short and long term effects of depriving kittens of vision in one eye. In their experiments, Wiesel and Hubel used kittens as models for human children. Hubel and Wiesel researched whether the impairment of vision in one eye could be repaired or not and whether such impairments would impact vision later on in life. The researchers sewed one eye of a kitten shut for varying periods of time.

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments

Viktor Hamburger's Study of Central-Peripheral Relations in the Development of Nervous System

An important question throughout the history of embryology is whether the formation of a biological structure is predetermined or shaped by its environment. If both intrinsic and environmental controls occur, how exactly do the two processes coordinate in crafting specific forms and functions? When Viktor Hamburger started his PhD study in embryology in the 1920s, few neuroembryologists were investigating how the central neurons innervate peripheral organs.

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments

In the Womb (2005), by Toby Mcdonald and National Geographic Channel

Written, produced, and directed by Toby Mcdonald, the 2005 National Geographic Channel film In the Womb uses the most recent technology to provide an intricate glimpse into the prenatal world. The technologies used, which include advanced photography, computer graphics, and 4-D ultrasound imaging, help to realistically illustrate the process of development and to answer questions about the rarely seen development of a human being.

Format: Articles

Subject: Outreach, Reproduction

Quickening

Quickening, the point at which a pregnant woman can first feel the movements of the growing embryo or fetus, has long been considered a pivotal moment in pregnancy. Over time, this experience has been used in a variety of contexts, ranging from representing the point of ensoulment to determining whether an abortion was legal to indicating the gender of the unborn baby; philosophy, theology, and law all address the idea of quickening in detail. Beginning with Aristotle, quickening divided the developmental stages of embryo and fetus.

Format: Articles

Subject: Processes, Ethics, Reproduction

Leonardo da Vinci's Embryological Annotations

Among his myriad scientific and artistic contributions, Leonardo da Vinci's work in embryology was groundbreaking. He observed and diagramed the previously undemonstrated position of the fetus in the womb with detailed accompanying annotations of his observations. Leonardo was highly paranoid of plagiarism and wrote all of his notes in mirror-like handwriting laden with his own codes, making his writing difficult to discern and delaying its impact.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

Leonardo da Vinci's Embryological Drawings of the Fetus

Leonardo da Vinci's embryological drawings of the fetus in the womb and his accompanying observational annotations are found in the third volume of his private notebooks. The drawings of Leonardo's embryological studies were conducted between the years 1510-1512 and were drawn with black and red chalk with some pen and ink wash on paper. These groundbreaking illustrations of the fetus reveal his advanced understanding of human development and demonstrate his role in the vanguard of embryology during the Renaissance.

Format: Articles

Subject: Processes

Roman Catholic Church Quickening

Although the concept of quickening was not developed initially by the Roman Catholic Church, much of their histories are intertwined. Quickening, the point at which a pregnant woman can first feel the movements of the growing embryo or fetus, has long been a pivotal moment in pregnancy. Historically, it has also been a pivotal moment for law and the Church in deciding the criminal and religious sanctions for women who intentionally procured an abortion.

Format: Articles

Subject: Religion

Birth without Violence (1975), by Frederick Leboyer

In Birth without Violence (1975), French obstetrician Frederick Leboyer describes in poetic form the possible perceptions and feelings of embryos and fetuses before, during, and after birth. His work has helped to promote a gentler and more sensitive birthing method with the goal of easing the newborn's transition from the womb to the outside world. Leboyer's birthing method influenced later birth techniques such as water birth and unassisted childbirth.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications, Reproduction

Aristotle (384-322 BCE)

Aristotle studied developing organisms, among other things, in ancient Greece, and his writings shaped Western philosophy and natural science for greater than two thousand years. He spent much of his life in Greece and studied with Plato at Plato's Academy in Athens, where he later established his own school called the Lyceum. Aristotle wrote greater than 150 treatises on subjects ranging from aesthetics, politics, ethics, and natural philosophy, which include physics and biology. Less than fifty of Aristotle's treatises persisted into the twenty-first century.

Format: Articles

Subject: People