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).

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.

In 1893, Julia Barlow Platt published her research on the origins of cartilage in the developing head of the common mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus) embryo. The mudpuppy is an aquatic salamander commonly used by embryologists because its large embryonic cells and nuclei are easy to see. Platt followed the paths of cells in developing mudpuppy embryos to see how embryonic cells migrated during the formation of the head. With her research, Platt challenged then current theories about germ layers, the types of cells in an early embryo that develop into adult cells. In most organisms' development, three types of germ layers are responsible for the formation of tissues and organs. The outermost layer is called ectoderm, the middle layer mesoderm, and the innermost layer endoderm, although Platt called it entoderm. Platt's research provided a basis for scientists to clarify the destination or function of the germ layers in vertebrates' development.

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.

From a developing embryos three primary germ layers, ectoderm (green), mesoderm (pink) and endoderm (yellow), a variety of differentiated cell types and organ systems arise, far more than are shown here. The three primary germ layers are shown during the gastrula stage because they become distinct at the gastrula stage. The germ cells (blue) are pre- cursors to sperm and egg cells, and they are set aside early in development, and are thought to arise from the ectoderm.

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