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.

The Spemann-Mangold organizer, also known as the Spemann organizer, is a cluster of cells in the developing embryo of an amphibian that induces development of the central nervous system. Hilde Mangold was a PhD candidate who conducted the organizer experiment in 1921 under the direction of her graduate advisor, Hans Spemann, at the University of Freiburg in Freiburg, German. The discovery of the Spemann-Mangold organizer introduced the concept of induction in embryonic development. Now integral to the field of developmental biology, induction is the process by which the identity of certain cells influences the developmental fate of surrounding cells. Spemann received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1935 for his work in describing the process of induction in amphibians. The Spemann-Mangold organizer drew the attention of embryologists, and it spurred numerous experiments on the nature of induction in many types of developing embryos.

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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