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.

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).

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.

Julia Barlow Platt studied neural crests in animal embryos and became involved in politics in the US during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She researched how body and head segments formed in chicks (Gallus gallus) and spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthias). Platt observed that in the mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus), the coordinated migration of neural crest cells in the embryo produced parts of the nervous system, bones, and connective tissues in the head. Platt's research indicated that the neural crest functioned like a germ layer, it challenged existing theories of what sorts of tissues arose from each of an embryo's germ layers, and it described early developmental stages of the nervous system.

Christian Heinrich Pander, often remembered as the father of embryology, also explored the fields of osteology, zoology, geology, and anatomy. He was born in Riga, Latvia, on 24 July 1794. Pander, with an eclectic history of research, is best remembered for his discovery and explanation of the structure of the chick blastoderm, a term he coined. In doing so, Pander was able to achieve the goal set forth by his teacher, Ignaz Döllinger, to reinvigorate the study of the chick embryo as a means of further exploring the science of embryology as a whole. His findings paved the way for the work of Karl Ernst von Baer, who would later revolutionize the field of embryology with his research.

Endoderm is one of the germ layers-- aggregates of cells that organize early during embryonic life and from which all organs and tissues develop. All animals, with the exception of sponges, form either two or three germ layers through a process known as gastrulation. During gastrulation, a ball of cells transforms into a two-layered embryo made of an inner layer of endoderm and an outer layer of ectoderm. In more complex organisms, like vertebrates, these two primary germ layers interact to give rise to a third germ layer, called mesoderm. Regardless of the presence of two or three layers, endoderm is always the inner-most layer. Endoderm forms the epithelium-- a type of tissue in which the cells are tightly linked together to form sheets-- that lines the primitive gut. From this epithelial lining of the primitive gut, organs like the digestive tract, liver, pancreas, and lungs develop.

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