Edmund Beecher Wilson contributed to cell biology, the study of cells, in the US during the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. His three editions of The Cell in Development and Inheritance (or Heredity) in 1896, 1900, and 1925 introduced generations of students to cell biology. In The Cell, Wilson described the evidence and theories of his time about cells and identified topics for future study. He helped show how each part of the cell works during cell division and in every step of early development of an organism. Developmental biologists trained in the mid-twentieth century reported WilsonÕs text as their foundation for understanding biology, including about how cells, development, heredity, and evolution interact. Wilson considered cells as the center of all biological phenomena.

Walter Stanborough Sutton studied grasshoppers and connected the phenomena of meiosis, segregation, and independent assortment with the chromosomal theory of inheritance in the early twentieth century in the US. Sutton researched chromosomes, then called inheritance mechanisms. He confirmed a theory of Wilhelm Roux, who studied embryos in Breslau, Germany, in the late 1880s, who had argued that chromosomes and heredity were linked. Theodor Boveri, working in Munich, Germany, independently reached similar conclusions about heredity as Sutton. Later scientists named the theory The Sutton-Boveri Theory, or The chromosomal theory of inheritance.

Studies in Spermatogenesis is a two volume book written by Nettie Maria Stevens, and published by the Carnegie Institution of Washington in 1905 and 1906. In the books Stevens explains the research she conducted on chromosomal sex determination in the sperm and egg cells of insect species while at Bryn Mawr College, near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Studies in Spermatogenesis described early examples of chromosomal XY sex-determination.

Edmund Beecher Wilson experimented with Amphioxus (Branchiostoma) embryos in 1892 to identify what caused their cells to differentiate into new types of cells during the process of development. Wilson shook apart the cells at early stages of embryonic development, and he observed the development of the isolated cells. He observed that in the normal development of Amphioxus, all three main types of symmetry, or cleavage patterns observed in embryos, could be found. Wilson proposed a hypothesis that reformed the Mosaic Theory associated with Wilhelm Roux in Germany. Wilson suggested that cells differentiated into other cells when influenced by physiological (dynamic) changes in the hereditary substance contained in cells, and not because of the qualitative division, or parcelling out, of the substance into daughter cells. Wilson published his results in August 1893.

The Cell in Development and Inheritance, by Edmund Beecher Wilson, provided a textbook introduction to cell biology for generations of biologists in the twentieth century. In his book, Wilson integrated information about development, inheritance, chromosomes, organelles, and the structure and functions of cells. First published in 1896, the book started with 371 pages, grew to 483 pages in the second edition that appeared in 1900, and expanded to 1,231 pages by the third and final edition in 1925. Wilson dedicated the book to the cell biologist Theodor Boveri, whose work established the roles of chromosomes in cell division. With its explanations and many illustrations and diagrams, The Cell in Development and Inheritance enabled embryologists to better understand development in terms of cell structure and function.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Edmund B. Wilson performed experiments to show where germinal matter was located in molluscs. At Columbia University in New York City, New York, Wilson studied what causes cells to differentiate during development. In 1904 he conducted his experiments on molluscs, and he modified the theory about the location of germinal matter in the succeeding years. Wilson and others modified the theory of germinal localization to accommodate results that showed the significance of chromosomes in development and heredity.

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).

The Y-chromosome is one of a pair of chromosomes that determine the genetic sex of individuals in mammals, some insects, and some plants. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the development of new microscopic and molecular techniques, including DNA sequencing, enabled scientists to confirm the hypothesis that chromosomes determine the sex of developing organisms. In an adult organism, the genes on the Y-chromosome help produce the male gamete, the sperm cell. Beginning in the 1980s, many studies of human populations used the Y-chromosome gene sequences to trace paternal lineages. In mammals, the Y-chromosomes contain the master-switch gene for sex determination, called the sex-determining region Y, or the SRY gene in humans. In most normal cases, if a fertilized egg cell, called a zygote, has the SRY gene, the zygote develops into an embryos that has male sex traits. If the zygote lacks the SRY gene or if the SRY gene is defective, the zygote develops into an embryo that has female sex traits.

In humans, sex determination is the process that determines the biological sex of an offspring and, as a result, the sexual characteristics that they will develop. Humans typically develop as either male or female, primarily depending on the combination of sex chromosomes that they inherit from their parents. The human sex chromosomes, called X and Y, are structures in human cells made up of tightly bound deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, and proteins. Those are molecules that contain the instructions for the development and functioning of all life forms, including the development of physical traits and body parts that correspond with each biological sex. Humans who inherit two X chromosomes typically develop as females, while humans with one X and one Y chromosome typically develop as males. Sex determination is the beginning of the development of many characteristics that influence how a human looks and functions as well as the societal expectations that other humans have for each other.

Edmund Beecher Wilson in the US published An Atlas of Fertilization and Karyokinesis of the Ovum (hereafter called An Atlas) in 1895. The book presents photographs by photographer Edward Leaming that capture stages of fertilization, the fusion of sperm and egg and early development of sea urchin (Toxopneustes variegatus) ova, or egg cell. Prior to An Atlas, no one photographed of eggcell division in clear detail. Wilson obtained high quality images of egg cells by cutting the cells into thin sections and preserving them throughout different stages of development. An Atlas helped Wilson develop methods to present key stages of fertilization and development, which he later used in his textbook The Cell in Development and Inheritance, first published in 1896. Furthermore, An Atlas was the first publication to present accurate images of the fertilized egg cell during early stages of development.

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