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Ectoderm

Ectoderm is one of three germ layers--groups of cells that coalesce early during the embryonic life of all animals except maybe sponges, and from which organs and tissues form. As an embryo develops, a single fertilized cell progresses through multiple rounds of cell division. Eventually, the clump of cells goes through a stage called gastrulation, during which the embryo reorganizes itself into the three germ layers: endoderm, ectoderm, and mesoderm. After gastrulation, the embryo goes through a process called neurulation, which starts the development of nervous system.

Format: Articles

Subject: Processes

Amniocentesis

Amniocentesis is a test used for prenatal diagnosis of inherited diseases, Rh incompatibility, neural tube defects, and lung maturity. Normally performed during the second trimester of a pregnancy, this invasive procedure allows the detection of health problems in the fetus as early as fifteen weeks gestation. Although amniocentesis does carry some significant risks, the medical community commonly accepts it as a safe and useful procedure.

Format: Articles

Subject: Technologies, Reproduction

Endoderm

Endoderm is one of the germ layers-- aggregates of cells that organize early during embryonic life and from which all organs and tissues develop. All animals, with the exception of sponges, form either two or three germ layers through a process known as gastrulation. During gastrulation, a ball of cells transforms into a two-layered embryo made of an inner layer of endoderm and an outer layer of ectoderm. In more complex organisms, like vertebrates, these two primary germ layers interact to give rise to a third germ layer, called mesoderm.

Format: Articles

Subject: Processes

Temperature-Dependent Sex Determination in Reptiles

The sex of a reptile embryo partly results from the production of sex hormones during development, and one process to produce those hormones depends on the temperature of the embryo's environment. The production of sex hormones can result solely from genetics or from genetics in combination with the influence of environmental factors. In genotypic sex determination, also called genetic or chromosomal sex determination, an organism's genes determine which hormones are produced.

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments

Julia Barlow Platt's Embryological Observations on Salamanders' Cartilage (1893)

In 1893, Julia Barlow Platt published her research on the origins of cartilage in the developing head of the common mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus) embryo. The mudpuppy is an aquatic salamander commonly used by embryologists because its large embryonic cells and nuclei are easy to see. Platt followed the paths of cells in developing mudpuppy embryos to see how embryonic cells migrated during the formation of the head. With her research, Platt challenged then current theories about germ layers, the types of cells in an early embryo that develop into adult cells.

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments, Theories, Processes

Ilya Ilyich Mechnikov (Elie Metchnikoff) (1845-1916)

Ilya Ilyich Mechnikov studied phagocytes, immune function, and starfish embryos in Europe during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Mechnikov adopted the French form of his name, Élie Metchnikoff, in the last twenty-five years of his life. In 1908, he won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Paul Ehrlich for their contributions to immunology. Mechnikov discovered phagocytes, immune cells that protect organisms by ingesting foreign particles or microorganisms, by conducting experiments on starfish larvae.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Walter Jakob Gehring (1939-2014)

Walter Jakob Gehring discovered the homeobox, a DNA segment found in a specific cluster of genes that determine the body plan of animals, plants, and fungi. Gehring identified the homeobox in 1983, with the help of colleagues while isolating the Antennapedia (Antp) gene in fruit flies (Drosophila) at the University of Basel in Basel, Switzerland. Hox genes, a family of genes that have the homeobox, determine the head-to-tail (anterior-posterior) body axis of both vertebrates and invertebrates.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Gastrulation in Mus musculus (common house mouse)

As mice embryos develop, they undergo a stage of development called gastrulation. The hallmark of vertebrate gastrulation is the reorganization of the inner cell mass (ICM) into the three germ layers: ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm. Mammalian embryogenesis occurs within organisms; therefore, gastrulation was originally described in species with easily observable embryos. For example, the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) is the most widely used organism to study gastrulation because the large embryos develop inside a translucent membrane.

Format: Articles

Subject: Processes, Experiments

“Revival of Spermatozoa after Dehydration and Vitrification at Low Temperatures” (1949), by Christopher Polge, Audrey Ursula Smith, and Alan Sterling Parkes

In the 1949 article “Revival of Spermatozoa after Dehydration and Vitrification at Low Temperatures,” researchers Christopher Polge, Audrey Ursula Smith, and Alan Sterling Parkes demonstrated that glycerol prevents cells from dying while being frozen. Polge and his colleagues discussed several procedures in which they had treated sperm cells from various species with glycerol, froze those cells, and then observed the physiological effects that freezing had on the treated sperm. The researchers concluded that glycerol safely preserves sperm samples from a variety of species.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

Ernest John Christopher Polge (1926-2006)

Twentieth-century researcher Ernest John Christopher Polge studied the reproductive processes of livestock and determined a method to successfully freeze, thaw, and utilize viable sperm cells to produce offspring in animals. In 1949, Polge identified glycerol as a cryoprotectant, or a medium that enables cells to freeze without damaging their cellular components or functions. Several years later, Polge used glycerol in a freezing process called vitrification, which enabled him to freeze poultry sperm, thaw that sperm, and use it to fertilize vertebrate embryos.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Johann Friedrich Meckel, the Younger (1781-1833)

Johann Friedrich Meckel studied abnormal animal and human anatomy in nineteenth century Germany in an attempt to explain embryological development. During Meckel's lifetime he catalogued embryonic malformations in multiple treatises. Meckel's focus on malformations led him to develop concepts like primary and secondary malformations, atavism, and recapitulation- all of which influenced the fields of medicine and embryology during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Ectopic Pregnancy

Many difficulties can arise with a pregnancy even after the sperm successfully fertilizes the oocyte. A major problem occurs if the fertilized egg tries to implant before reaching its normal implantation site, the uterus. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants anywhere other than in the uterus, most commonly in the fallopian tubes. Ectopic pregnancies cannot continue to term, so a physician must remove the developing embryo as early as possible.

Format: Articles

Subject: Disorders, Processes, Reproduction

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

John D. Gearhart

John D. Gearhart is a renowned American developmental geneticist best known for leading the Johns Hopkins University research team that first identified and isolated human pluripotent stem cells from human primordial germ cells, the precursors of fully differentiated germ cells. Born in Western Pennsylvania, Gearhart lived on the family farm located in the Allegheny Mountains for the first six years of his life.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Effects of Prenatal Alcohol Exposure on Central Nervous System Development

Prenatal exposure to alcohol (ethanol) results in a continuum of physical, neurological, behavioral, and learning defects collectively grouped under the heading Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is part of this group and was first defined in 1973 as a condition characterized by pre- and postnatal growth deficiencies, facial abnormalities and defects of the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS is particularly vulnerable to the effects of ethanol during prenatal development.

Format: Articles

Subject: Disorders, Reproduction

Leo Kanner (1894-1981)

Leo Kanner studied and described early infantile autism in humans in the US during the twentieth century. Though Eugen Bleuler first coined the term autism in 1910 as a symptom of schizophrenia, Kanner helped define autism as a disease concept separate from schizophrenia. He helped found an early child psychiatry department in 1930 at the Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

The Jackson Laboratory

The Roscoe B. Jackson Laboratory, known commonly in the scientific field as the Jackson Laboratory, was founded by Clarence Cook Little in May 1929. The lab has been pivotal in research with in vitro fertilization, teratomas, gene replacement therapy for birth defects, and more because its researchers have focused from the beginning on developing the mouse as a model organism. Mice were chosen by researchers at Jackson as the best available model for genetic research, and today genetically uniform strains of mice developed at the lab are used in laboratories all over the world.

Format: Articles

Subject: Organizations

Kurt Benirschke (1924-)

Kurt Benirschke studied cells, placentas, and endangered species in Germany and the US during the twentieth century. Benirschke was professor at the University of California in San Diego, California, and a director of the research department at the San Diego Zoo in San Diego, California. He also helped form the research department of the San Diego Zoo and its sister organization, the Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

In re Agent Orange Product Liability Litigation (1979-1984)

In the legal case In re Agent Orange Product Liability Litigation of the early 1980s, US military veterans of the Vietnam War sued the US chemical companies that had produced the herbicide Agent Orange, and those companies settled with US veterans out of court. Agent Orange contains dioxin, a chemical later shown to disrupt the hormone system of the body and to cause cancer. As veterans returned to the US from Vietnam, scientists further confirmed that exposure to Agent Orange caused a variety of cancers in veterans and developmental problems in the veterans' children.

Format: Articles

Subject: Legal, Ethics

Essay: The Cuvier-Geoffroy Debate

In 1830, a dispute erupted in the halls of lÕAcad mie des Sciences in Paris between the two most prominent anatomists of the nineteenth century. Georges Cuvier and tienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, once friends and colleagues at the Paris Museum, became arch rivals after this historical episode. Like many important disputes in the history of science, this debate echoes several points of contrasts between the two thinkers.

Format: Essays and Theses

Subject: Theories

Georges Cuvier (1769-1832)

Georges Cuvier, baptized Georges Jean-Leopold Nicolas-Frederic Cuvier, was a professor of anatomy at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France, through the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Scholars recognize Cuvier as a founder of modern comparative anatomy, and as an important contributor to vertebrate paleontology and geology. Cuvier studied the form and function of animal anatomy, writing four volumes on quadruped fossils and co-writing eleven volumes on the natural history of fish with Achille Valenciennes.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Theophilus Shickel Painter (1889-1969)

Theophilus Shickel Painter studied the structure and
function of chromosomes in the US during in the early to mid-twentieth century. Painter worked at
the University of Texas at Austin in Austin, Texas. In the 1920s
and 1930s, Painter studied the chromosomes of the salivary gland
giant chromosomes of the fruit fly (Drosophila
melanogaster), with Hermann J. Muller. Muller and Painter
studied the ability of X-rays to cause changes in the chromosomes
of fruit flies. Painter also studied chromosomes in mammals.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

William Keith Brooks (1848-1908)

Biologist William Keith Brooks studied embryological development in invertebrates and used his results as evidence for theories of evolution and ancestral heredity. He founded a marine biological laboratory where his and others' embryological studies took place. Later in life, Brooks became head of the Biology Department at Johns Hopkins University where he helped shape the minds of leading embryologists.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Gene Transfer Strategy Used to Treat Tay - Sachs Disease (2005), by Sabata Martino’s Research Group

In the early 2000s, Sabata Martino and a team of researchers in Italy and Germany showed that they could reduce the symptoms of Tay-Sachs in afflicted mice by injecting them with a virus that infected their cells with a gene they lacked. Tay-Sachs disease is a fatal degenerative disorder that occurs in infants and causes rapid motor and mental impairment, leading to death at the ages of three to five. In gene therapy, researchers insert normal genes into cells that have missing or defective genes in order to correct genetic disorders.

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments

Buck v. Bell (1927)

In 1927, the US Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell set the legal precedent that states may sterilize inmates of public institutions because the court argued that imbecility, epilepsy, and feeblemindedness are hereditary, and that the inmates should be prevented from passing these defects to the next generation. On 2 May 1927, in an eight to one decision, the US Supreme Court ordered that Carrie Buck, feebleminded daughter of a feebleminded mother and herself the mother of a feebleminded child, be sterilized under the 1924 Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act. Buck v.

Format: Articles

Subject: Legal, Reproduction