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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.
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.