Hilde Mangold, previously Hilde Proescholdt, was a German embryologist and physiologist who became well known for research completed with Hans Spemann in the 1920s. As a graduate student, Mangold assisted Spemann and together they discovered and coined the term the "organizer." The organizer discovery was a crucial contribution to embryology that led to further understanding of the pattern of embryo differentiation of amphibians. Mangold's dissertation was connected to Spemann's Nobel Prize, but Mangold died early in life and was unable to witness the impact her research had on experimental embryology.

In his 1907 paper, "Experiments in Transplanting Limbs and Their Bearing Upon the Problems of the Development of Nerves," in the Journal of Experimental Zoology that he edited, Ross Granville Harrison tested the development of nerves in transplanted tissue. He studied neural development by examining two competing theories. Victor Hensen proposed a syncytial theory as a way to explain neural development, suggesting that all the nerves of an embryo were connected directly by cytoplasm laid down early in development, and leaving no room for later modification. Santiago Ramón y Cajal proposed a competing outgrowth theory that nerves develop from the central nervous system, pushing through tissues by growing nerve fibers and growth cones. Harrison's experiment refuted many of the claims of the syncytial theory although it did not produce evidence that could directly prove the outgrowth theory.

The Spemann-Mangold organizer, also known as the Spemann organizer, is a cluster of cells in the developing embryo of an amphibian that induces development of the central nervous system. Hilde Mangold was a PhD candidate who conducted the organizer experiment in 1921 under the direction of her graduate advisor, Hans Spemann, at the University of Freiburg in Freiburg, German. The discovery of the Spemann-Mangold organizer introduced the concept of induction in embryonic development. Now integral to the field of developmental biology, induction is the process by which the identity of certain cells influences the developmental fate of surrounding cells. Spemann received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1935 for his work in describing the process of induction in amphibians. The Spemann-Mangold organizer drew the attention of embryologists, and it spurred numerous experiments on the nature of induction in many types of developing embryos.

Otto Mangold was an early twentieth century embryologist who specialized in the development of amphibian embryos. A major emphasis of his research was refining the concept of the organizer, now referred to as embryonic induction. He was born on 4 November 1891 in Auenstein, Germany, and came from what Viktor Hamburger, a colleague and personal acquaintance, described as "peasant stock." Mangold attended several universities including Tübingen, Freiburg, and Rostock. He was one of Hans Spemann's first students at Rostock before Mangold had to leave to serve in the air force in World War I.

John Spangler Nicholas, an American biologist, was born on 10 March 1895 in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. He was the only child of Elizabeth Ellen Spangler, a teacher, and Samuel Trauger Nicholas, a Lutheran minister. Nicholas held myriad administrative positions throughout his life and his contributions to biology spanned several sub-disciplines, but his most notable accomplishments were in the field of embryology.

Gustav Jacob Born was an experimental embryologist whose original work with amphibians served as the platform for his wax-plate method of embryo modeling, heteroblastic (different tissues) and xenoplastic (similar species) transplantation methods, environmental influences on sex ratio studies, and proposed function of the corpus luteum. He was born 22 April 1851 in Kempen, Prussia, but his family moved to the larger city of Görlitz within a year after Born's birth. His father was Marcus Born, a physician and public health officer who practiced in the town of Görlitz. Born began his formal education at the Gymnasium in Görlitz and later attended the universities of Breslau, Bonn, Strassburg, and Berlin. During the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), Born enlisted and served as an orderly and physician's assistant. He returned to the University of Breslau at war's end and graduated with a MD in 1874. In 1877 Born became a Privatdozent at the University of Breslau. In 1886 he was made assistant professor and in 1898 he became professor of histology and comparative anatomy. During his tenure at Breslau, Born worked with Karl Hasse and reported being under constant scrutiny by Hasse who held widely known anti-semitic views.

The process of gastrulation allows for the formation of the germ layers in metazoan embryos, and is generally achieved through a series of complex and coordinated cellular movements. The process of gastrulation can be either diploblastic or triploblastic. In diploblastic organisms like cnidaria or ctenophora, only the endoderm and the ectoderm form; in triploblastic organisms (most other complex metazoans), triploblastic gastrulation produces all three germ layers. The gastrula, the product of gastrulation, was named by Ernst Haeckel in the mid-1870s; the name comes from Latin, where gaster means stomach, and indeed the gut (archenteron) is one of the most distinctive features of the gastrula.