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Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that are capable of dividing for long periods of time and can give rise to specialized cells under particular conditions. Embryonic stem cells are a particular type of stem cell derived from embryos. According to US National Institutes of Health (NIH), in humans, the term "embryo" applies to a fertilized egg from the beginning of division up to the end of the eighth week of gestation, when the embryo becomes a fetus. Between fertilization and the eighth week of gestation, the embryo undergoes multiple cell divisions.
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.