Ontogeny and Phylogeny is a book published in 1977, in which the author Stephen J. Gould, who worked in the US, tells a history of the theory of recapitulation. A theory of recapitulation aims to explain the relationship between the embryonic development of an organism (ontogeny) and the evolution of that organism's species (phylogeny). Although there are several variations of recapitulationist theories, most claim that during embryonic development an organism repeats the adult stages of organisms from those species in it's evolutionary history. Gould suggests that, although fewer biologists invoked recapitulation theories in the twentieth century compared to those in the nineteenth and eighteenth centuries, some aspects of the theory of recapitulation remained important for understanding evolution. Gould notes that the concepts of acceleration and retardation during development entail that changes in developmental timing (heterochrony) can result in a trait appearing either earlier or later than normal in developmental processes. Gould argues that these changes in the timing of embryonic development provide the raw materials or novelties upon which natural selection acts.

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.

Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel was a prominent comparative anatomist and active lecturer in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He is most well known for his descriptions of phylogenetic trees, studies of radiolarians, and illustrations of vertebrate embryos to support his biogenetic law and Darwin's work with evolution. Haeckel aggressively argued that the development of an embryo repeats or recapitulates the progressive stages of lower life forms and that by studying embryonic development one could thus study the evolutionary history of life on earth.

The process of gastrulation allows for the formation of the germ layers in metazoan embryos, and is generally achieved through a series of complex and coordinated cellular movements. The process of gastrulation can be either diploblastic or triploblastic. In diploblastic organisms like cnidaria or ctenophora, only the endoderm and the ectoderm form; in triploblastic organisms (most other complex metazoans), triploblastic gastrulation produces all three germ layers. The gastrula, the product of gastrulation, was named by Ernst Haeckel in the mid-1870s; the name comes from Latin, where gaster means stomach, and indeed the gut (archenteron) is one of the most distinctive features of the gastrula.

In nineteenth century Great Britain, Thomas Henry Huxley proposed connections between the development of organisms and their evolutionary histories, critiqued previously held concepts of homology, and promoted Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Many called him Darwin's Bulldog. Huxley helped professionalize and redefine British science. He wrote about philosophy, religion, and social issues, and researched and theorized in many biological fields. Huxley made several methodological contributions to both invertebrate and vertebrate embryology and development, and he helped shape the extra-scientific discourse for these fields.

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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