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.

To study human evolution, researchers sometimes use microstructures found in human teeth and their knowledge of the processes by which those structures grow. Human fetusus begin to develop teeth in utero. As teeth grow, they form a hard outer substance, called enamel, through a process called amelogenesis. During amelogenesis, incremental layers of enamel form in a Circadian rhythm. This rhythmic deposition leaves the enamel with microstructures, called cross-striations and striae of Retzius, which have a regular periodicity. Because enamel is not renewed throughout life like other tissues, teeth preserve the timing and details of a person's growth and development. Thus, enamel microstructures, from living people and from fossilized teeth, can be used to reconstruct the growth, development, and life histories of current and past humans. Researchers can also compare current and fossilized microstructures to trace changes in those traits over the course of human evolution.

The endothelium is the layer of cells lining the blood vessels in animals. It weighs more than one kilogram in adult humans, and it covers a surface area of 4000 to 7000 square meters. The endothelium is the cellular interface between the circulating blood and underlying tissue. As the medium between these two sets of tissues, endothelium is part of many normal and disease processes throughout the body. The endothelium responds to signals from its surrounding environment to help regulate functions like the resistance that blood vessels need to pump blood through the body (vasomotor tone), the policing of substances trying to enter or exit the blood vessel (blood vessel permeability), and the ability of blood to clot (hemostasis). In addition to diseases like atherosclerosis, endothelium has been indicated as a component in pathologies like cancer, asthma, diabetes, hepatitis, multiple sclerosis, and sepsis. The shape, size, and appearance of endothelial cells, called their phenotypes, vary depending upon which part of the body the cells are from, a property called phenotypic heterogeneity. The endothelium, its properties, and its responses to stimuli are governed largely by the local environment of the cells.

In eighteenth century Germany, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach studied how individuals within a species vary, and to explain such variations, he proposed that a force operates on organisms as they develop. Blumenbach used metrical methods to study the history of humans, but he was also a natural historian and theorist. Blumenbach argued for theories of the transformation of species, or the claim that new species can develop from existing forms. His theory of Bildungstrieb (formative drive), a developmental force within all organisms, influenced the conceptual debates among many late nineteenth and early twentieth century embryologists and naturalists.

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. Animals that have only two germ layers develop open digestive cavities. In contrast, the evolutionary development of the mesoderm allowed in animals the formation of internal organs such as stomachs and intestines (viscera).

Between February 1969 and August 1970 Edward Kollar and Grace Baird, from the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois, published three papers that established the role of the mesenchyme in tooth induction. Drawing upon a history of using tissue interactions to understand differentiation, Kollar and Baird designed their experiments to understand how differentiated structures become specified. Their work overturned a widely accepted model that epithelium controls the identity of the structure, a phenomenon called structural specificity. Interactions between epithelium and mesenchyme control the development and differentiation of many parts during embryonic development, including structures like the gastrointestinal tract and hair. Thus, the realization that mesenchyme drives induction and differentiation during epithelio-mesenchymal interactions had far-reaching effects.

A germ layer is a group of cells in an embryo that interact with each other as the embryo develops and contribute to the formation of all organs and tissues. All animals, except perhaps sponges, form two or three germ layers. The germ layers develop early in embryonic life, through the process of gastrulation. During gastrulation, a hollow cluster of cells called a blastula reorganizes into two primary germ layers: an inner layer, called endoderm, and an outer layer, called ectoderm. Diploblastic organisms have only the two primary germ layers; these organisms characteristically have multiple symmetrical body axes (radial symmetry), as is true of jellyfish, sea anemones, and the rest of the phylum Cnidaria. All other animals are triploblastic, as endoderm and ectoderm interact to produce a third germ layer, called mesoderm. Together, the three germ layers will give rise to every organ in the body, from skin and hair to the digestive tract.

Mesenchyme is a type of animal tissue comprised of loose cells embedded in a mesh of proteins and fluid, called the extracellular matrix. The loose, fluid nature of mesenchyme allows its cells to migrate easily and play a crucial role in the origin and development of morphological structures during the embryonic and fetal stages of animal life. Mesenchyme directly gives rise to most of the body's connective tissues, from bones and cartilage to the lymphatic and circulatory systems. Furthermore, the interactions between mesenchyme and another tissue type, epithelium, help to form nearly every organ in the body.

Frederik Ruysch, working in the Netherlands, introduced the term epithelia in the third volume of his Thesaurus Anatomicus in 1703. Ruysch created the term from the Greek epi, which means on top of, and thele, which means nipple, to describe the type of tissue he found when dissecting the lip of a cadaver. In the mid nineteenth century, anatomist Albrecht von Haller adopted the word epithelium, designating Ruysch's original terminology as the plural version. In modern science, epithelium is a type of animal tissue in which cells are packed into neatly arranged sheets. The epithelial cells lie proximate to each other and attach to a thin, fibrous sheet called a basement membrane. Epithelia line the surfaces of cavities and structures throughout the body, and also form glands. Although they lack blood vessels, epithelia contain nerves and can function to receive sensation, absorb, protect, and secrete, depending on which part of the body the epithelia line. During development, epithelia act in conjunction with another tissue type, mesenchyme, to form nearly every organ in the body, from hair and teeth to the digestive tract. Epithelia are an essential part of embryonic development and the maintenance and function of the body throughout life.

Hilde Proscholdt Mangold was a doctoral student at the Zoological Institute at the University of Freiburg in Freiburg, Germany, from 1920-1923. Mangold conducted research for her dissertation 'On the Induction of Embryonic Primordia by Implantation of Organizers from Different Species' ('Ueber Induktion von Embryonanlagen durch Implantation artfremder Organisatoren'), under the guidance of Hans Spemann, a professor of zoology at the University of Freiburg. The dissertation was the culmination of five experiments on three species of newt embryos, of the genus Triton (presently, Triturus), performed during the summers of 1921 and 1922, which resulted in a confirmation of Spemann's organizer concept. Spemann and Mangold published the dissertation in a 1924 edition of Roux's Archives for Microscopic Anatomy and Developmental Mechanics (Roux's Archiv fur Mikroskopische Anatomie und Entwicklungsmechanik)."

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