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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Differentiate between the embryonic period and the fetal period
  • Briefly describe the process of sexual differentiation
  • Describe the fetal circulatory system and explain the role of the shunts
  • Trace the development of a fetus from the end of the embryonic period to birth

As you will recall, a developing human is called a fetus from the ninth week of gestation until birth. This 30-week period of development is marked by continued cell growth and differentiation, which fully develop the structures and functions of the immature organ systems formed during the embryonic period. The completion of fetal development results in a newborn who, although still immature in many ways, is capable of survival outside the womb.

Sexual differentiation

Sexual differentiation does not begin until the fetal period, during weeks 9–12. Embryonic males and females, though genetically distinguishable, are morphologically identical ( [link] ). Bipotential gonads, or gonads that can develop into male or female sexual organs, are connected to a central cavity called the cloaca via Müllerian ducts and Wolffian ducts. (The cloaca is an extension of the primitive gut.) Several events lead to sexual differentiation during this period.

During male fetal development, the bipotential gonads become the testes and associated epididymis. The Müllerian ducts degenerate. The Wolffian ducts become the vas deferens, and the cloaca becomes the urethra and rectum.

During female fetal development, the bipotential gonads develop into ovaries. The Wolffian ducts degenerate. The Müllerian ducts become the uterine tubes and uterus, and the cloaca divides and develops into a vagina, a urethra, and a rectum.

Sexual differentiation

This flow chart shows how the sexual organs develop in embryos. The left side of the flow chart shows the development of male organs and the right side of the flow chart shows the development of female organs.
Differentiation of the male and female reproductive systems does not occur until the fetal period of development.

The fetal circulatory system

During prenatal development, the fetal circulatory system is integrated with the placenta via the umbilical cord so that the fetus receives both oxygen and nutrients from the placenta. However, after childbirth, the umbilical cord is severed, and the newborn’s circulatory system must be reconfigured. When the heart first forms in the embryo, it exists as two parallel tubes derived from mesoderm and lined with endothelium, which then fuse together. As the embryo develops into a fetus, the tube-shaped heart folds and further differentiates into the four chambers present in a mature heart. Unlike a mature cardiovascular system, however, the fetal cardiovascular system also includes circulatory shortcuts, or shunts. A shunt    is an anatomical (or sometimes surgical) diversion that allows blood flow to bypass immature organs such as the lungs and liver until childbirth.

The placenta provides the fetus with necessary oxygen and nutrients via the umbilical vein. (Remember that veins carry blood toward the heart. In this case, the blood flowing to the fetal heart is oxygenated because it comes from the placenta. The respiratory system is immature and cannot yet oxygenate blood on its own.) From the umbilical vein, the oxygenated blood flows toward the inferior vena cava, all but bypassing the immature liver, via the ductus venosus    shunt ( [link] ). The liver receives just a trickle of blood, which is all that it needs in its immature, semifunctional state. Blood flows from the inferior vena cava to the right atrium, mixing with fetal venous blood along the way.

Questions & Answers

this is muscular system?
Patel Reply
to have a better understanding as to how our human bodies function. the knowledge we gain can improve our quality of life. Without our study of anatomy how could a doctor know what prescription to give us when our bodies is being attacked by a bacteria? We wouldn't!
Robin Reply
discuss nervers system in human being life.
Allen Reply
neuralgia what is other name of it
how are neurons adapted to their function
Namiyaba Reply
machenic support production of blood cells locomotion protection of delicate organs
Ackson Reply
what are hormones?
what is anatomy
Juma Reply
what are the functions of bones
To support and control the movements of the body
the study of human body is called anatomy
the study of human body is nt only anatomy but also physiology and histology
ooops lol I thought Michael was the one with the questions so sorry people. yes anatomy is the study of the body(structure)and it's physiology (functions).
what are the muscles of respiration?
Hi everyone, Why actyl choline decreases blood pressure although it affects adrenal gland leading it to secret adrenaline and noradrenaline which increase blood pressure?
cholinergic receptors are mostly under Parasympathetic response while adrenergic (norepinephrine) receptors are mostly sympathetic although they are cholinergic adrenergic receptors as well
vocal cords
MT Reply
musah was admitted to your ward yesterday with traumatic amputation of the right thump . he complained this morning that he has not passed enough urine. Questions. 1) will you consider his complain to be pathological or physiological?. 2) in less than three sentences, justify your opinion. 3) Apply your understanding of the renin- angiotensin-aldosterone system to explain the factors and mechanisms accounting for his complains.
Ellen Reply
the mineral salt which break up a large portion of bone tissue is
Aurora Reply
please I need help. musah was admitted to your ward yesterday with traumatic amputation of the right thump. he complained this morning that he has not passed enough urine. Questions. 1). will you consider his complain to be pathological or physiological?.
2). In less than three sentences, justify your opinion.
musah copmlan to be physiological because of:-
cholesterol and triglycerides in simplest terms are fats (lipid) found in blood
Roy Reply
calcium is important for bone density and development. it also helps for safe / normal blood clotting, blood circulation to and from the heart, and muscle movement
please undertand me action potential ?
minimum potential that must be overcomed to cause polarization and stimulate a neuronal response( generate impulse)
what is muscle tissue
Rifat Reply
the muscle tissue is one of the 4 basic tissues in our body and is responsible for movement of our body
What Is difference between Ovary and Ovum
ovary is female reproductive organ while ovum is a female gamete formed from ovary
Thank You
What Is Cholesterol and Triglycerides
the mineral salt which break up a large portion of bone tissue
in simple way muscle tissue is responsible for movement of our body.
Hi Be Home Be safe , how are things doing hope all is well
Natarajan Reply
3 longitudinal bands of smooth muscles found in large intestines
what's is sutures
Nimeshka Reply
what would I like to know
Roy Reply
anything u can tell me
anatomy mins
when two or more bones meet.

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Source:  OpenStax, Anatomy & Physiology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 04, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11496/1.8
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