James M Cummins published 'The Role of Maternal Mitochondria during Oogenesis, Fertilization and Embryogenesis' 30 January 2002 in Reproductive BioMedicine Online. In the article, Cummins examines the role of the energy producing cytoplasmic particles, or organelles called mitochondria. Humans inherit mitochondria from their mothers, and mechanisms have evolved to eliminate sperm mitochondria in early embryonic development. Mitochondria contain their own DNA (mtDNA) separate from nuclear DNA (nDNA). Cummins's article describes how mitochondria influence the development of egg cells called oocytes. Mitochondria also function in the union of oocyte and sperm, early formation of the embryo, and in in vitro fertilization (IVF) techniques, such as the transfer of donor cytoplasm into an oocyte resulting in a technique called ooplasmic transfer.
In the early 1960s, John W. Saunders Jr., Mary T. Gasseling, and Lilyan C. Saunders in the US investigated how cells die in the developing limbs of chick embryos. They studied when and where in developing limbs many cells die, and they studied the functions of cell death in wing development. At a time when only a few developmental biologists studied cell death, or apoptosis, Saunders and his colleagues showed that researchers could use embryological experiments to uncover the causal mechanisms of apotosis. The researchers published many of their results in the 1962 paper 'Cellular death in morphogenesis of the avian wing.'
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.
Apoptosis, or programmed cell death, is a mechanism in embryonic development that occurs naturally in organisms. Apoptosis is a different process from cell necrosis, which is uncontrolled cell death usually after infection or specific trauma. As cells rapidly proliferate during development, some of them undergo apoptosis, which is necessary for many stages in development, including neural development, reduction in egg cells (oocytes) at birth, as well as the shaping of fingers and vestigial organs in humans and other animals. Sydney Brenner, H. Robert Horvitz, and John E. Sulston received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002 for their work on the genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death. Research on cell lineages before and after embryonic development may lead to new ways to reduce or promote cell death, which can be important in preventing diseases such as Alzheimer's or cancer.
In an effort to develop tissue culture techniques for long-term tissue cultivation, French surgeon and biologist Alexis Carrel, and his associates, produced and maintained a series of chick heart tissue cultures at the Rockefeller Institute in New York City. From 1912 to 1946, this series of chick heart tissue cultures remained alive and dividing. Since the duration of this culture greatly exceeded the normal chick life span, the cells were deemed immortal. Although this conclusion was challenged by further experiments in the 1960s, the publicity surrounding the immortal chick heart tissue significantly influenced the concept of cell immortality and cellular aging from the 1920s through the 1960s. Carrel's experiment convinced many biologists to accept immortality as an intrinsic property of all cells, not just the cell line through which genetic material is passed to offspring, called the germ line. Consequently, the phenomenon of cellular aging was regarded not as an intrinsic characteristic, but was attributed to external factors such as the accumulation of waste products within the cell.
"Apoptosis: A Basic Biological Phenomenon with Wide-Ranging Implications in Tissue Kinetics" (hereafter abbreviated as "Apoptosis") was published in the British Journal of Cancer in 1972 and co-authored by three pathologists who collaborated at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. In this paper the authors propose the term apoptosis for regulated cell death that proceeds through active, controlled morphological changes. This is in contrast to necrosis, a passive mode of cell death that results from uncontrolled cellular reactions to injury or stress. The journal article also suggests that apoptosis plays crucial roles in various pathological and physiological conditions including the shaping of digits and the shrinking of vestigial organs in developing embryos.
Leonard Hayflick studied the processes by which cells age during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in the United States. In 1961 at the Wistar Institute in the US, Hayflick researched a phenomenon later called the Hayflick Limit, or the claim that normal human cells can only divide forty to sixty times before they cannot divide any further. Researchers later found that the cause of the Hayflick Limit is the shortening of telomeres, or portions of DNA at the ends of chromosomes that slowly degrade as cells replicate. Hayflick used his research on normal embryonic cells to develop a vaccine for polio, and from HayflickÕs published directions, scientists developed vaccines for rubella, rabies, adenovirus, measles, chickenpox and shingles.