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.

Edwin Grant Conklin was born in Waldo, Ohio, on 24 November 1863 to parents Nancy Maria Hull and Dr. Abram V. Conklin. Conklin's family was very religious and he seriously considered a theistic path before choosing a career in academics. Conklin's scientific work was primarily in the areas of embryology, cytology, and morphology, though many questions regarding the relationships between science, society, and philosophy had an influence on both his writings and academic lectures. Conklin' s work regarding cell lineage helped to bring the study of evolution and embryology together into one discipline. Conklin was an exceptional researcher who published many books and papers on the subjects of cell lineage and embryology as well as an extremely diverse collection of publications on evolution and the philosophy of biology.

Frank R. Lillie was born in Toronto, Canada, on 27 June 1870. His mother was Emily Ann Rattray and his father was George Waddell Little, an accountant and co-owner of a wholesale drug company. While in high school Lillie took up interests in entomology and paleontology but went to the University of Toronto with the aim of studying ministry. He slowly became disillusioned with this career choice and decided to major in the natural sciences. It was during his senior year that he developed his lifelong interest in embryology. Graduating with a BA in 1891 Lillie then moved to the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, to work and study with Charles Otis Whitman, the founding director of the MBL. Lillie collected and studied cell lineage side-by-side with some of the most prominent embryologists of the time: Edmund B. Wilson, Edwin G. Conklin, and Aaron L. Treadwell. Along with his cell lineage studies, Whitman guided Lillie to work on the question of how blastomeres contributed to the formation of organs in fresh water clams.

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