Implantation is a process in which a developing embryo, moving as a blastocyst through a uterus, makes contact with the uterine wall and remains attached to it until birth. The lining of the uterus (endometrium) prepares for the developing blastocyst to attach to it via many internal changes. Without these changes implantation will not occur, and the embryo sloughs off during menstruation. Such implantation is unique to mammals, but not all mammals exhibit it. Furthermore, of those mammals that exhibit implantation, the process differs in many respects between those mammals in which the females have estrous cycles, and those mammals in which the femals have menstrual cycles. Females in the different species of primates, including humans, have menstrual cycles, and thus similar processes of implantation.

To study human evolution, researchers sometimes use microstructures found in human teeth and their knowledge of the processes by which those structures grow. Human fetusus begin to develop teeth in utero. As teeth grow, they form a hard outer substance, called enamel, through a process called amelogenesis. During amelogenesis, incremental layers of enamel form in a Circadian rhythm. This rhythmic deposition leaves the enamel with microstructures, called cross-striations and striae of Retzius, which have a regular periodicity. Because enamel is not renewed throughout life like other tissues, teeth preserve the timing and details of a person's growth and development. Thus, enamel microstructures, from living people and from fossilized teeth, can be used to reconstruct the growth, development, and life histories of current and past humans. Researchers can also compare current and fossilized microstructures to trace changes in those traits over the course of human evolution.

The Notch signaling pathway is a mechanism in animals by which adjacent cells communicate with each other, conveying spatial information and genetic instructions for the animal's development. All multicellular animals utilize Notch signaling, which contributes to the formation, growth, and development of embryos (embryogenesis). Notch signaling also contributes to the differentiation of embryonic cells into various types of cells into various types of cells, such as neurons. Research into the Notch gene in fruit flies began in the early twentieth century, but not until the end of the twentieth century did researchers begin to uncover, in many different species, the roles of Notch proteins for cell to cell signaling. Researchers have also found that dysfunction in the pathway can contribute to diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer's.

Paul M. Brakefield and his research team in Leiden, the Netherlands, examined the development, plasticity, and evolution of butterfly eyespot patterns, and published their findings in Nature in 1996. Eyespots are eye-shaped color patterns that appear on the wings of some butterflies and birds as well as on the skin of some fish and reptiles. In butterflies, such as the peacock butterfly Aglais, the eyespots resemble the eyes of birds and help butterflies deter potential predators. Brakefield's research team described the stages through which eyespots develop, identified the genes and environmental signals that affect eye-spot appearance in some species, and demonstrated that small genetic variations can change butterfly eyespot color and shape. The research focused on a few butterfly species, but it contributed to more general claims of how the environment may affect the development of coloration and how specific color patterns may have evolved.

In 1969, Roy J. Britten and Eric H. Davidson published Gene Regulation for Higher Cells: A Theory, in Science. A Theory proposes a minimal model of gene regulation, in which various types of genes interact to control the differentiation of cells through differential gene expression. Britten worked at the Carnegie Institute of Washington in Washington, D.C., while Davidson worked at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. Their paper was an early theoretical and mechanistic description of gene regulation in higher organisms.

Dell Publishing in New York City, New York, published Lennart Nilsson's A Child Is Born in 1966. The book was a translation of the Swedish version called Ett barn blir till, published in 1965. It sold over a million copies in its first edition, and has translations in twelve languages. Nilsson, a photojournalist, documented a nine-month human pregnancy using pictures and accompanying text written by doctors Axel Ingelman-Sundberg, Claes Wirsen and translated by Britt and Claes Wirsen and Annabelle MacMillian. Critics lauded A Child Is Born for its photographs taken in utero of a developing fetus. Furthermore, the work received additional praise for what many described as simple and scientifically accurate explanations of complicated processes during development.

The Sex-determining Region Y (Sry in mammals but SRY in humans) is a gene found on Y chromosomes that leads to the development of male phenotypes, such as testes. The Sry gene, located on the short branch of the Y chromosome, initiates male embryonic development in the XY sex determination system. The Sry gene follows the central dogma of molecular biology; the DNA encoding the gene is transcribed into messenger RNA, which then produces a single Sry protein. The Sry protein is also called the testis-determining factor (TDF), a protein that initiates male development in humans, placental mammals, and marsupials. The Sry protein is a transcription factor that can bind to regions of testis-specific DNA, bending specific DNA and activating or enhancing its abilities to promote testis formation, marking the first step towards male, rather than female, development in the embryo.

Johann Friedrich Meckel and Antoine Etienne Reynaud Augustin Serres developed in the early 1800s the basic principles of what later became called the Meckel-Serres Law. Meckel and Serres both argued that fetal deformities result when development prematurely stops, and they argued that these arrests characterized lower life forms, through which higher order organisms progress during normal development. The concept that the embryos of higher order organisms progress through successive stages in which they resemble lower level forms is called recapitulation. Meckel, a professor of anatomy at the University of Halle in Halle, Germany, and Serres, a physician at Hotel-Dieu de Paris in Paris, France, did not work together. Rather, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, their similar approaches, in which they compared the anatomy and embryos of different species so as to relate stages of embryonic development to the scala naturae, led oher scientists to generalize their individual concepts into one general theory. The recapitulation ideas of Meckel and Serres became part of the mid-eighteenth century debate about how to explain morphological similarities between species.

Among other functions, the Notch signaling pathway forestalls the process of myogenesis in animals. The Notch signaling pathway is a pathway in animals by which two adjacent cells within an organism use a protein named Notch to mechanically interact with each other. Myogenesis is the formation of muscle that occurs throughout an animal's development, from embryo to the end of life. The cellular precursors of skeletal muscle originate in somites that form along the dorsal side of the organism. The Notch signaling pathway is active in multiple aspects of somitogenesis, and it continues to be a critical regulator during myogenesis. Throughout the life of an organism, Notch signaling prevents the differentiation of muscle progenitor cells into muscle cells. Such preventions help maintain populations of progenitor cells that can remain dormant until the growth or repair of muscle is necessary, at which point the Notch signal to the muscle progenitor cells is disrupted, and the muscle progenitor cells differentiate into muscle fibers and cells. Without Notch signaling, myogenesis proceeds prematurely and dissipates before mature muscle can form.

Francis Harry Compton Crick, who co-discovered the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) in 1953 in Cambridge, England, also developed The Central Dogma of Molecular Biology, and further clarified the relationship between nucleotides and protein synthesis. Crick received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine that he shared with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins in 1962 for their discovery of the molecular structure of DNA. Crick's results on the genetic material found in all living organisms advanced theories of inheritance and spurred further studies into the field of genetics and embryology.

Subscribe to Developmental Biology