Ectoderm is one of three germ layers--groups of cells that coalesce early during the embryonic life of all animals except maybe sponges, and from which organs and tissues form. As an embryo develops, a single fertilized cell progresses through multiple rounds of cell division. Eventually, the clump of cells goes through a stage called gastrulation, during which the embryo reorganizes itself into the three germ layers: endoderm, ectoderm, and mesoderm. After gastrulation, the embryo goes through a process called neurulation, which starts the development of nervous system.

Edmund Beecher Wilson contributed to cell biology, the study of cells, in the US during the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. His three editions of The Cell in Development and Inheritance (or Heredity) in 1896, 1900, and 1925 introduced generations of students to cell biology. In The Cell, Wilson described the evidence and theories of his time about cells and identified topics for future study. He helped show how each part of the cell works during cell division and in every step of early development of an organism. Developmental biologists trained in the mid-twentieth century reported WilsonÕs text as their foundation for understanding biology, including about how cells, development, heredity, and evolution interact. Wilson considered cells as the center of all biological phenomena.

Neurocristopathies are a class of pathologies in vertebrates, including humans, that result from abnormal expression, migration, differentiation, or death of neural crest cells (NCCs) during embryonic development. NCCs are cells derived from the embryonic cellular structure called the neural crest. Abnormal NCCs can cause a neurocristopathy by chemically affecting the development of the non-NCC tissues around them. They can also affect the development of NCC tissues, causing defective migration or proliferation of the NCCs. There are many neurocristopathies that affect many different types of systems. Some neurocristopathies result in albinism (piebaldism) and cleft palate in humans. Various pigment, skin, thyroid, and hearing disorders, craniofacial and heart abnormalities, malfunctions of the digestive tract, and tumors can be classified as neurocristopathies. This classification ties a variety of disorders to one embryonic origin.

The endothelium is the layer of cells lining the blood vessels in animals. It weighs more than one kilogram in adult humans, and it covers a surface area of 4000 to 7000 square meters. The endothelium is the cellular interface between the circulating blood and underlying tissue. As the medium between these two sets of tissues, endothelium is part of many normal and disease processes throughout the body. The endothelium responds to signals from its surrounding environment to help regulate functions like the resistance that blood vessels need to pump blood through the body (vasomotor tone), the policing of substances trying to enter or exit the blood vessel (blood vessel permeability), and the ability of blood to clot (hemostasis). In addition to diseases like atherosclerosis, endothelium has been indicated as a component in pathologies like cancer, asthma, diabetes, hepatitis, multiple sclerosis, and sepsis. The shape, size, and appearance of endothelial cells, called their phenotypes, vary depending upon which part of the body the cells are from, a property called phenotypic heterogeneity. The endothelium, its properties, and its responses to stimuli are governed largely by the local environment of the cells.

The Cell in Development and Inheritance, by Edmund Beecher Wilson, provided a textbook introduction to cell biology for generations of biologists in the twentieth century. In his book, Wilson integrated information about development, inheritance, chromosomes, organelles, and the structure and functions of cells. First published in 1896, the book started with 371 pages, grew to 483 pages in the second edition that appeared in 1900, and expanded to 1,231 pages by the third and final edition in 1925. Wilson dedicated the book to the cell biologist Theodor Boveri, whose work established the roles of chromosomes in cell division. With its explanations and many illustrations and diagrams, The Cell in Development and Inheritance enabled embryologists to better understand development in terms of cell structure and function.

The Hayflick Limit is a concept that helps to explain the mechanisms behind cellular aging. The concept states that a normal human cell can only replicate and divide forty to sixty times before it cannot divide anymore, and will break down by programmed cell death or apoptosis. The concept of the Hayflick Limit revised Alexis Carrel's earlier theory, which stated that cells can replicate themselves infinitely. Leonard Hayflick developed the concept while at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1965. In his 1974 book Intrinsic Mutagenesis, Frank Macfarlane Burnet named the concept after Hayflick. The concept of the Hayflick Limit helped scientists study the effects of cellular aging on human populations from embryonic development to death, including the discovery of the effects of shortening repetitive sequences of DNA, called telomeres, on the ends of chromosomes. Elizabeth Blackburn, Jack Szostak and Carol Greider received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009 for their work on genetic structures related to the Hayflick Limit.

In 2004, a team of researchers at Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, investigated the fetal cells that remained in the maternal blood stream after pregnancy. The results were published in Transfer of Fetal Cells with Multilineage Potential to Maternal Tissue. The team working on that research included Kiarash Khosrotehrani, Kirby L. Johnson, Dong Hyun Cha, Robert N. Salomon, and Diana W. Bianchi. The researchers reported that the fetal cells passed to a pregnant woman during pregnancy could develop into multiple cell types in her organs. They studied these differentiated fetal cells in a cohort of women fighting different diseases. The researchers found that the fetal cells in the women differentiated into different cell types under the influence of maternal tissues, and that those differentiated cells concentrated in the tissue surrounding diseased tissues. According to the team, this response could be a therapeutic response to the disease in the once pregnant woman. The research indicated the long lasting effects of pregnancy in a woman's body.

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.

Sir John Bertrand Gurdon further developed nuclear transplantation, the technique used to clone organisms and to create stem cells, while working in Britain in the second half of the twentieth century. Gurdon's research built on the work of Thomas King and Robert Briggs in the United States, who in 1952 published findings that indicated that scientists could take a nucleus from an early embryonic cell and successfully transfer it into an unfertilized and enucleated egg cell. Briggs and King also concluded that a nucleus taken from an adult cell and similarly inserted into an unfertilized enucleated egg cell could not produce normal development. In 1962, however, Gurdon published results that indicated otherwise. While Briggs and King worked with Rana pipiens frogs, Gurdon used the faster-growing species Xenopus laevis to show that nuclei from specialized cells still held the potential to be any cell despite its specialization. In 2012, the Nobel Prize Committee awarded Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka its prize in physiology and medicine for for their work on cloning and pluripotent stem cells.

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).

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