Thalidomide is a sedative drug introduced to European markets on 1 October 1957 after extensive testing on rodent embryos to ensure its safety. Early laboratory tests in rodent populations showed that pregnant rodents could safely use it, so doctors prescribed Thalidomide to treat morning sickness in pregnant women. However, in humans Thalidomide interfered with embryonic and fetal development in ways not observed in rodent tests. Pregnant women who take Thalidomide are at grater than normal risk for spontaneous abortion and for giving birth to children with developmental anomalies such as shortened, absent, or extra limbs, as well as a variety of heart, ear, and internal organ defects. The failure of rodent models to inform scientists of Thalidomide's teratogenicity in humans ignited debate about the proper use of cross-species testing during drug development.

Aristotle studied developing organisms, among other things, in ancient Greece, and his writings shaped Western philosophy and natural science for greater than two thousand years. He spent much of his life in Greece and studied with Plato at Plato's Academy in Athens, where he later established his own school called the Lyceum. Aristotle wrote greater than 150 treatises on subjects ranging from aesthetics, politics, ethics, and natural philosophy, which include physics and biology. Less than fifty of Aristotle's treatises persisted into the twenty-first century. In natural philosophy, later called natural science, Aristotle established methods for investigation and reasoning and provided a theory on how embryos generate and develop. He originated the theory that an organism develops gradually from undifferentiated material, later called epigenesis.

Telomeres are structures at the ends of DNA strands that get longer in the DNA of sperm cells as males age. That phenomenon is different for most other types of cells, for which telomeres get shorter as organisms age. In 1992, scientists showed that telomere length (TL) in sperm increases with age in contrast to most cell of most other types. Telomeres are the protective caps at the end of DNA strands that preserve chromosomal integrity and contribute to DNA length and stability. In most cells, telomeres shorten with each cell division due to incomplete replication, though the enzyme telomerase functions in some cell lines that undergo repetitive divisions to replenish any lost length and to prevent degradation. Cells, and therefore organisms, with short telomeres are more susceptible to mutations and genetic diseases. While TL increases in a subset of sperm cells and longer telomeres may prevent early disintegration of DNA, it may also prevent natural mechanisms of apoptosis, or cell death, from occurring in abnormal sperm.

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