Fetus in fetu is a rare variety of parasitic twins , where the developmentally abnormal parasitic twin is completely encapsulated within the torso of the otherwise normally developed host twin. In the late eighteenth century, German anatomist Johann Friedrich Meckel was the first to described fetus in fetu, which translates to “fetus within fetus.” Fetus in fetu is thought to result from the unequal division of the totipotent inner cell mass , the mass of cells that is the ancestral precursor to all cells in the body. The unequal division is thought to occur during the formation of the blastocyst, which can also result in parasitic and conjoined twins . Fetus in fetu represents a developmental anomaly that has prompted developmental biologists to further examine the mechanisms for how twins arise.

Conjoined twins are twins whose bodies are anatomically joined in utero. The degree to which the twins are attached can range from simple, involving skin and cartilage, to complex, including fusion of the skull(s), brain(s), or other vital organs. There are more than a dozen classifications of conjoined twins but what they all tend to have in common is the sharing of the chorion, placenta, and amniotic sac.

Diprosopus is a congenital defect also known as craniofacial duplication. The exact description of diprosopus refers to a fetus with a single trunk, normal limbs, and facial features that are duplicated to a certain degree. A less severe instance is when the nose is duplicated and the eyes are spaced far apart. In the most extreme instances, the entire face is duplicated, hence the name diprosopus, which is Greek for two-faced. Fetuses with diprosopus often also lack brains (anencephaly), have neural tube defects, or heart malformations. In some caases, if the brain is formed, it may have duplicated structures. Most infants with diprosopus are stillborn and there are fewer than fifty cases documented since 1864.

Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS) is a rare placental disease that can occur at any time during pregnancy involving identical twins. TTTS occurs when there is an unequal distribution of placental blood vessels between fetuses, which leads to a disproportionate supply of blood delivered. This unequal allocation of blood leads to developmental problems in both fetuses that can range in severity depending on the type, direction, and number of interconnected blood vessels.

In humans, multi-fetal pregnancy occurs when a mother carries more than one fetus during the pregnancy. The most common multi-fetal pregnancy is twins, but mothers have given birth to up to eight children (octuplets) from a single pregnancy. Multiple fetusus can result from the release of multiple eggs or multiple ovulations, the splitting of a single fertilized egg, and fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) which involves the insertion of many fertilized eggs into the mother's uterus. The specific ways that multiples are conceived determines the degree of relatedness between individuals within the set. Once conceived, there are many possibilities for arrangement of placentas, where the egg implants, and amniotic sacs. The detection of multiple fetuses can be made by using ultrasound technology, hormone testing, and through the discovery of multiple heart beats. Some multiple births may be deemed high-risk due to the number of fetuses, their arrangement, or due to complications during development.

The spinal column is the central structure in the vertebrate body from which stability, movement, and posture all derive. The vertebrae of the spine are organized into four regions (listed in order from cranial to caudal): cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and pelvic. These regions are classified by their differences in curvature. The human spine usually consists of thirty-three vertebrae, seven of which are cervical (C1-C7), twelve are thoracic (T1-T12), five are lumbar (L1-L5), and nine are pelvic (five fused as the sacrum and four fused as the coccyx).

Parasitic twins, a specific type of conjoined twins, occurs when one twin ceases development during gestation and becomes vestigial to the fully formed dominant twin, called the autositic twin. The underdeveloped twin is called parasitic because it is only partially formed, is not functional, or is wholly dependent on the autositic twin. In most cases, the phenotype of parasitic twins is one normal functioning individual with extra appendages or organs, leading to questions about whether or not the additional limbs and organs are in fact another person or just a mutation of the individual's body. Researchers think that parasitic twins result from mechanisms similar to those that produce Vanishing Twin Syndrome. On a developmental continuum with vanishing twin syndrome on one end and developmentally normal twins on the other, researchers propose that the patterns of conjoined twins fall in the middle.

For more than 2000 years, embryologists, biologists, and philosophers have studied and detailed the processes that follow fertilization. The fertilized egg proliferates into cells that begin to separate into distinct, identifiable zones that will eventually become adult structures through the process of morphogenesis. As the cells continue to multiply, patterns form and cells begin to differentiate, and eventually commit to their fate. This progression of events can be examined by following the developmental path of each progenitor cell and creating a two-dimensional representation where cell location and fate can be labeled and marked. Fate mapping is a method for tracing cell lineages and a fundamental tool of developmental biology and embryology.

Early development occurs in a highly organized and orchestrated manner and has long attracted the interest of developmental biologists and embryologists. Cell lineage, or the study of the developmental differentiation of a blastomere, involves tracing a particular cell (blastomere) forward from its position in one of the three germ layers. Labeling individual cells within their germ layers allows for a pictorial interpretation of gastrulation. This chart or graphical representation detailing the fate of each part of an early embryo is referred to as a fate map. In essence, each fate map portrays the developmental history of each cell.

Gastrulation is an early stage in embryo development in which the blastula reorganizes into three germ layers: the ectoderm, the mesoderm, and the endoderm. Gastrulation occurs after cleavage but before neurulation and organogenesis. Ernst Haeckel coined the term; gaster, meaning stomach in Latin, is the root for gastrulation, as the gut is one of the most unique creations of the gastrula.

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