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Molecular Epigenetics and Development: Histone Conformations, DNA Methylation and Genomic Imprinting

Introduced by Conrad Hal Waddington in 1942, the concept of epigenetics gave scientists a new paradigm of thought concerning embryonic development, and since then has been widely applied, for instance to inheritable diseases, molecular technologies, and indeed the human genome as a whole. A genome contains an embedded intricate coding template that provides a means of genetic expression from the initial steps of embryonic development until the death of the organism. Within the genome there are two prominent components: coding (exons) and non-coding (introns) sequences.

Format: Articles

Subject: Theories

Epigenetic Landscape

The epigenetic landscape is a concept representing embryonic development. It was proposed by Conrad Hal Waddington to illustrate the various developmental pathways a cell might take toward differentiation. The epigenetic landscape integrates the connected concepts of competence, induction, and regulative abilities of the genes into a single model designed to explain cellular differentiation, a long standing problem in embryology.

Format: Articles

Subject: Theories

Caspar Friedrich Wolff (1734-1794)

Caspar Friedrich Wolff is most famous for his 1759 doctoral dissertation, Theoria Generationis, in which he described embryonic development in both plants and animals as a process involving layers of cells, thereby refuting the accepted theory of preformation: the idea that organisms develop as a result of the unfolding of form that is somehow present from the outset, as in a homunculus. This work generated a great deal of controversy and discussion at the time of its publication but was an integral move in the reemergence and acceptance of the theory of epigenesis.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Conrad Hal Waddington (1905-1975)

Conrad Hal Waddington was an embryologist and theoretical biologist. His early experimental work investigated aspects of embryonic induction and the properties of the organizer first identified by Hans Spemann and Hilde Mangold, while his later studies focused on genetic assimilation. Waddington is probably best known for developing the concept of the epigenetic landscape, and he also held significant interest in many different areas ranging from the visual arts and poetry to philosophy.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Karl Ernst von Baer (1792-1876)

Best known for his contributions to the field of embryology, Karl Ernst von Baer also pursued a variety of other areas of study including medicine, botany, zoology, and anthropology. Committing his life to scientific research, von Baer's work led to the advancement of the understanding of mammalian reproduction, development, and organ functioning. His embryological discoveries ultimately led him to a view of development that supported epigenesis and refuted long-held thinking about preformation.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Barbara McClintock's Transposon Experiments in Maize (1931–1951)

Barbara McClintock conducted experiments on corn (Zea mays) in the United States in the mid-twentieth century to study the structure and function of the chromosomes in the cells. McClintock researched how genes combined in corn and proposed mechanisms for how those interactions are regulated. McClintock received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1983, the first woman to win the prize without sharing it. McClintock won the award for her introduction of the concept of transposons, also called jumping genes.

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments

"The Cell-Theory" (1853), by Thomas Henry Huxley

The Cell-Theory was written by Thomas Henry Huxley in Britain and published in 1853 by The British and Foreign Medico-Chirurgical Review. The twenty-two page article reviews twelve works on cell theory, including those in Germany by Caspar Friedrich Wolff in the eighteenth century and by Karl Ernst von Baer in the nineteenth century. Huxley spends much of The Cell-Theory on a cell theory proposed in the late 1830s by Matthias Schleiden and Theodor Schwann in Germany.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

In the Womb: Identical Twins (2009), by National Geographic

National Geographic's documentary In the Womb: Identical Twins focuses on the prenatal development of human identical twins. Director Lorne Townend uses three-dimensional (3D) and four-dimensional (4D) ultrasound imaging and microscopy to depict twin development , genetic and epigenetic variations in the fetuses, and methods of fetal survival in the confines of the womb. Artist renditions of scientific data fill in areas of development inaccessible to the imaging tools.

Format: Articles

Subject: Outreach, Reproduction

Brian K. Hall (1941- )

Brian Hall is the son of Doris Garrad and Harry Hall, and was born in Port Kembla, NSW Australia, on 28 October 1941. He attended the University of New England in Armidale NSW, graduating in 1963 with a BSc in zoology, in 1965 with a BSc (Honors) in zoology, and in 1968 with a PhD in zoology. His PhD thesis, undertaken under the supervision of Patrick D. F. Murray, FAA was on the differentiation of bone and secondary cartilage in chicken embryos.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Organisers and Genes (1940), by Conrad Hal Waddington

Conrad Hal Waddington's Organisers and Genes, published in 1940, is a summary of available research and theoretical framework for many concepts related to tissue differentiation in the developing embryo. The book is composed of two main conceptual sections. The first section explores the action and nature of the organizer, while the second section delves into genes and their influence on development.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

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

Karl Ernst von Baer's Laws of Embryology

In 1828, while working at the University of Konigsberg in Konigsberg, Germany Karl Ernst von Baer proposed four laws of animal development, which came to be called von Baer's laws of embryology. With these laws, von Baer described the development (ontogeny) of animal embryos while also critiquing popular theories of animal development at the time.

Format: Articles

Subject: Theories

Embryonic Differentiation in Animals

Embryonic differentiation is the process of development during which embryonic cells specialize and diverse tissue structures arise. Animals are made up of many different cell types, each with specific functions in the body. However, during early embryonic development, the embryo does not yet possess these varied cells; this is where embryonic differentiation comes into play. The differentiation of cells during embryogenesis is the key to cell, tissue, organ, and organism identity.

Format: Articles

Subject: Processes

Preformationism in the Enlightenment

Preformationism was a theory of embryological development used in the late seventeenth through the late eighteenth centuries. This theory held that the generation of offspring occurs as a result of an unfolding and growth of preformed parts. There were two competing models of preformationism: the ovism model, in which the location of these preformed parts prior to gestation was the maternal egg, and the spermism model, in which a preformed individual or homunculus was thought to exist in the head of each sperm.

Format: Articles

Subject: Theories

"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

Multi-Fetal Pregnancy

In humans, multi-fetal pregnancy occurs when a mother carries more than one fetus during the pregnancy. The most common multi-fetal pregnancy is twins, but mothers have given birth to up to eight children (octuplets) from a single pregnancy. Multiple fetusus can result from the release of multiple eggs or multiple ovulations, the splitting of a single fertilized egg, and fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) which involves the insertion of many fertilized eggs into the mother's uterus.

Format: Articles

Subject: Processes, Reproduction

Role of Sonic Hedgehog (Shh) in Alcohol-Induced Craniofacial Abnormalities

Prenatal exposure to alcohol (ethanol) results in a continuum of physical and neurological developmental abnormalities that vary depending on the timing, duration, and degree of alcohol exposure. Heavy exposure during development may lead to the condition Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), characterized by growth deficits, neurological deficiencies and minor facial abnormalities. Alcohol is a known teratogen, an agent that causes birth defects and acts upon developing embryos through mechanisms that are not yet fully understood.

Format: Articles

Subject: Disorders

The Effects of Diethylstilbestrol on Embryonic Development

Estrogen plays a key role in the regulation of gene transcription. This is accomplished by its ability to act as a ligand and to bind to specific estrogen receptor (ER) molecules, such as ERα and ERβ, which act as nuclear transcription factors. There are three major nuclear estrogen receptor protein domains: the estrogen binding domain, the protein interaction domain, and the DNA binding domain.

Format: Articles

Subject: Disorders

"Contributions to the Development of the Embryo. On the Artificial Production of One of the First Two Blastomeres, and the Later Development (Postgeneration) of the Missing Half of the Body" (1888), by Wilhelm Roux

Wilhelm Roux was an influential figure in the early history of experimental embryology. Although he originally studied medicine, he was invited to be a Privatdozentur, or unsalaried lecturer, at the Anatomical Institute in Breslau (Wroclaw), Poland, in 1879. He spent the next ten years at this institute, working his way from Dozent to associate professor and finally, in 1889, to director for his own institute, Institut für Entwicklungsgeschichte, or Institute for Developmental History and Mechanics.

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments

Gustav Jacob Born (1851-1900)

Gustav Jacob Born was an experimental embryologist whose original work with amphibians served as the platform for his wax-plate method of embryo modeling, heteroblastic (different tissues) and xenoplastic (similar species) transplantation methods, environmental influences on sex ratio studies, and proposed function of the corpus luteum. He was born 22 April 1851 in Kempen, Prussia, but his family moved to the larger city of Görlitz within a year after Born's birth. His father was Marcus Born, a physician and public health officer who practiced in the town of Görlitz.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Experiments by Kazutoshi Takahashi and Shinya Yamanaka in 2006 and 2007

In 2006, Kazutoshi Takahashi and Shinya Yamanaka reprogrammed mice fibroblast cells, which can produce only other fibroblast cells, to become pluripotent stem cells, which have the capacity to produce many different types of cells. Takahashi and Yamanaka also experimented with human cell cultures in 2007. Each worked at Kyoto University in Kyoto, Japan. They called the pluripotent stem cells that they produced induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) because they had induced the adult cells, called differentiated cells, to become pluripotent stem cells through genetic manipulation.

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments

Noninvasive Fetal Aneuploidy Detection for Trisomy 21, 13, and 18

Noninvasive fetal aneuploidy detection technology allows for the detection of fetal genetic conditions, specifically having three chromosomes, a condition called aneuploidy, by analyzing a simple blood sample from the pregnant woman. Dennis Lo and Rossa Chiu researched methods of detection of aneuploidies in the early twenty-first century. Their research has been specifically applied to three trisomies, trisomy twenty-one known as Down syndrome, trisomy eighteen known as Edwards Syndrome, and trisomy thirteen known as Patau Syndrome.

Format: Articles

Subject: Technologies

Process of Eukaryotic Embryonic Development

All sexually reproducing, multicellular diploid eukaryotes begin life as embryos. Understanding the stages of embryonic development is vital to explaining how eukaryotes form and how they are related on the tree of life. This understanding can also help answer questions related to morphology, ethics, medicine, and other pertinent fields of study. In particular, the field of comparative embryology is concerned with documenting the stages of ontogeny.

Format: Articles

Subject: Processes

"The Potency of the First Two Cleavage Cells in Echinoderm Development. Experimental Production of Partial and Double Formations" (1891-1892), by Hans Driesch

Hans Adolf Eduard Driesch was a late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century philosopher and developmental biologist. In the spring of 1891 Driesch performed experiments using two-celled sea urchin embryos, the results of which challenged the then-accepted understanding of embryo development. Driesch showed that the cells of an early embryo, when separated, could each continue to develop into normal larval forms.

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments, Publications

The Effects of Thalidomide on Embryonic Development

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.

Format: Articles

Subject: Processes, Disorders

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