AskDefine | Define embryology

Dictionary Definition

embryology n : the branch of biology that studies the formation and early development of living organisms

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. The scientific study of embryos.


the scientific study of embryos

Extensive Definition

Embryology is the study of the development of an embryo. An embryo is defined as any organism in a stage before birth or hatching, or in plants, before germination occurs.
Embryology refers to the development of the fertilized egg cell (zygote) and its differentiation into tissues and organs. After cleavage, the dividing cells, or morula, becomes a hollow ball, or blastula, which develops a hole or pore at one end.
In animals, the blastula develops in one of two ways that divides the whole animal kingdom into two halves. If in the blastula the first pore (blastopore) becomes the mouth of the animal, it is a protostome; if the first pore becomes the anus then it is a deuterostome. The protostomes include most invertebrate animals, such as insects, worms and molluscs, while the deuterostomes includes more advanced animals including the vertebrates. In due course, the blastula changes into a more differentiated structure called the gastrula.
The gastrula with its blastopore soon develops three distinct layers of cells (the germ layers) from which all the bodily organs and tissues then develop:
  • The innermost layer, or endoderm, gives rise to the digestive organs, lungs and bladder.
  • The middle layer, or mesoderm, gives rise to the muscles, skeleton and blood system.
  • The outer layer of cells, or ectoderm, gives rise to the nervous system and skin.
In humans, the term embryo refers to the ball of dividing cells from the moment the zygote implants itself in the uterus wall until the end of the eighth week after conception. Beyond the eighth week, the developing human is then called a fetus. Embryos in many species often appear similar to one another in early developmental stages. The reason for this similarity is because species have adapted into the environment of pregnancy. These similarities among species are called analogous structures, which are structures that have the same or similar function and mechanism, but evolved separately.


As recently as the 18th century, the prevailing notion in human embryology was preformation: the idea that the egg or sperm contains an embryo--a preformed, miniature infant, or "homunculus"--that simply becomes larger during development. The competing explanation of embryonic development was epigenesis, originally proposed 2,000 years earlier by Aristotle. According to epigenesis, the form of an animal emerges gradually from a relatively formless egg. As microscopy improved during the 19th century, biologists could see that embryos took shape in a series of progressive steps, and epigenesis displaced preformation as the favored explanation among embryologists.
After the 1950s, with the DNA helical structure being unravelled and the increasing knowledge in the field of molecular biology, developmental biology emerged as a field of study which attempts to correlate the genes with morphological change; and so tries to determine which genes are responsible for each morphological change that takes place in an embryo, and how these genes are regulated.

Vertebrate and invertebrate embryology

Many principles of embryology apply to both invertebrate animals as well as to vertebrates. Therefore, the study of invertebrate embryology has advanced the study of vertebrate embryology. However, there are many differences as well. For example, numerous invertebrate species release a larva before development is complete; at the end of the larval period, an animal for the first time comes to resemble an adult similar to it parents. Although invertebrate embryology is similar in some ways for different invertebrate animals, there are also countless variations. For instance, while spiders proceed directly from egg to adult form many insects develop through at least one larval stage.

Modern embryology research

Currently, embryology has become an important research area for studying the genetic control of the development process (e.g. morphogens), its link to cell signalling, its importance for the study of certain diseases and mutations and in links to stem cell research.


Further reading

External links

embryology in Arabic: علم الجنين
embryology in Bosnian: Embriologija
embryology in Catalan: Embriologia
embryology in Czech: Embryologie
embryology in Danish: Embryologi
embryology in German: Embryologie
embryology in Estonian: Embrüoloogia
embryology in Spanish: Embriología
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embryology in French: Embryologie
embryology in Croatian: Embriologija
embryology in Italian: Embriologia
embryology in Hebrew: אמבריולוגיה
embryology in Georgian: ემბრიოლოგია
embryology in Lithuanian: Embriologija
embryology in Dutch: Embryologie
embryology in Norwegian: Embryologi
embryology in Polish: Embriologia
embryology in Portuguese: Embriologia
embryology in Romanian: Embriologie
embryology in Russian: Эмбриология
embryology in Simple English: Embryology
embryology in Slovak: Embryológia
embryology in Slovenian: Embriologija
embryology in Serbian: Ембриологија
embryology in Finnish: Embryologia
embryology in Swedish: Embryologi
embryology in Tagalog: Embriyolohiya
embryology in Thai: คัพภวิทยา
embryology in Turkish: Embriyoloji
embryology in Chinese: 胚胎学

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