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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe the process of organogenesis
  • Identify the anatomical axes formed in vertebrates

Gastrulation leads to the formation of the three germ layers that give rise, during further development, to the different organs in the animal body. This process is called organogenesis    . Organogenesis is characterized by rapid and precise movements of the cells within the embryo.


Organs form from the germ layers through the process of differentiation. During differentiation, the embryonic stem cells express specific sets of genes which will determine their ultimate cell type. For example, some cells in the ectoderm will express the genes specific to skin cells. As a result, these cells will differentiate into epidermal cells. The process of differentiation is regulated by cellular signaling cascades.

Scientists study organogenesis extensively in the lab in fruit flies ( Drosophila ) and the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans . Drosophila have segments along their bodies, and the patterning associated with the segment formation has allowed scientists to study which genes play important roles in organogenesis along the length of the embryo at different time points. The nematode C.elegans has roughly 1000 somatic cells and scientists have studied the fate of each of these cells during their development in the nematode life cycle. There is little variation in patterns of cell lineage between individuals, unlike in mammals where cell development from the embryo is dependent on cellular cues.

In vertebrates, one of the primary steps during organogenesis is the formation of the neural system. The ectoderm forms epithelial cells and tissues, and neuronal tissues. During the formation of the neural system, special signaling molecules called growth factors signal some cells at the edge of the ectoderm to become epidermis cells. The remaining cells in the center form the neural plate. If the signaling by growth factors were disrupted, then the entire ectoderm would differentiate into neural tissue.

The neural plate undergoes a series of cell movements where it rolls up and forms a tube called the neural tube    , as illustrated in [link] . In further development, the neural tube will give rise to the brain and the spinal cord.

Illustration shows a flat sheet. The middle of the sheet is the neural plate, and the epidermis is at either end. The neural plate border separates the neural tube from the epidermis. During convergence the plate folds, bringing the neural folds together. The neural folds fuse, joining the neural plate into a neural tube. The epidermis separates and folds around the outside.
The central region of the ectoderm forms the neural tube, which gives rise to the brain and the spinal cord.

The mesoderm that lies on either side of the vertebrate neural tube will develop into the various connective tissues of the animal body. A spatial pattern of gene expression reorganizes the mesoderm into groups of cells called somites with spaces between them. The somites, illustrated in [link] will further develop into the ribs, lungs, and segmental (spine) muscle. The mesoderm also forms a structure called the notochord, which is rod-shaped and forms the central axis of the animal body.

 Embryo resembles a segmented earthworm with a bulging head.
In this five-week old human embryo, somites are segments along the length of the body. (credit: modification of work by Ed Uthman)

Vertebrate axis formation

Even as the germ layers form, the ball of cells still retains its spherical shape. However, animal bodies have lateral-medial (left-right), dorsal-ventral (back-belly), and anterior-posterior (head-feet) axes, illustrated in [link] .

Illustration shows a fish dissected by lines into anterior (front) and posterior (rear) ends and dorsal (top) and ventral (bottom) surfaces.
Animal bodies have three axes for symmetry. (credit: modification of work by NOAA)

How are these established? In one of the most seminal experiments ever to be carried out in developmental biology, Spemann and Mangold took dorsal cells from one embryo and transplanted them into the belly region of another embryo. They found that the transplanted embryo now had two notochords: one at the dorsal site from the original cells and another at the transplanted site. This suggested that the dorsal cells were genetically programmed to form the notochord and define the axis. Since then, researchers have identified many genes that are responsible for axis formation. Mutations in these genes leads to the loss of symmetry required for organism development.

Animal bodies have externally visible symmetry. However, the internal organs are not symmetric. For example, the heart is on the left side and the liver on the right. The formation of the central left-right axis is an important process during development. This internal asymmetry is established very early during development and involves many genes. Research is still ongoing to fully understand the developmental implications of these genes.

Section summary

Organogenesis is the formation of organs from the germ layers. Each germ layer gives rise to specific tissue types. The first stage is the formation of the neural system in the ectoderm. The mesoderm gives rise to somites and the notochord. Formation of vertebrate axis is another important developmental stage.

Questions & Answers

hetreothalism in fungi
Lekhram Reply
there are 3 trimester in human pregnancy
I don't know answer of this question can u help me
what is a cell
Fatima Reply
A cell is functional and structural unit of life.
what is genetic
Janet Reply
I join
what are the branchas of biology
Prisca Reply
zoology, ecology
genetics, microbiology,botany and embryology
what is a cell
Kulunbawi Reply
cell is smallest unit of life. cells are often cell the building blocks of life...
the first twenty element
Orapinega Reply
what are the characteristics of living things?
growth,respiration,nutrition,sensitivity, movement,irritability, excretion,death.
What is the difference between adaptation and competition in animals
Adeyemi Reply
What is biology
it is a natural science stadey about living things
Biology is the bronch of science which deals with the study of life is called biology
what is the x in 300 stands for?
Ogbudu Reply
the properties of life
Clarinda Reply
response to the environment, reproduction, homeostasis, growth,energy processing etc.....
what is reproduction
Reproduction is a fundamental feature of all known life,each individual organism exist as a result of re production.....or else Multiplying...
a complete virus particle known as
Darlington Reply
These are formed from identical protein subunitscalled capsomeres.
fabace family plant name
Pushpam Reply
in eukaryotes ...protein channel name which transport protein ...
Pushpam Reply
in bacteria ...chromosomal dna duplicate structure called
what is a prokaryotic cell and a eukaryotic cell
Matilda Reply
There are two types of cells. Eukaryotic and Prokaryotic cells. Prokaryotic cells don't have a nucleus or membrane enclosed organelles (little organs within that cell). They do however carry genetic material but it's not maintained in the nucleus. Prokaryotic cells are also one celled.
Prokaryotic cells are one celled (single celled).
Prokaryotic cells are Bacteria and Archea
Prokaryotic cells are smaller than Eukaryotic cells.
Eukaryotic cells are more complex. They are much bigger than Prokaryotic cells.
Eukaryotic cells have a nucleus and membrane bound organelles.
Eukaryotic cells are animals cells which also includes us.
Eukaryotic cells are also multicellular.
nice explaination
eukaryotic cells are individual cells .. but eukaryotes are multicellular organisms which consist of many different types of eukaryotic cells
also eukaryotic cells have mitochondria. prokaryotic cells do not
in prokaryotes only ribosomes are present... in eukaryotes mitochondria ...glogi bodies ..epidermis .....prokaryotes one envelop but eukaryotes compartment envelop....envelop mean membrane bound organelles......
prokaryotic cell are cells dat have no true nuclei i.e no cell membrane while eukaryotic cell are cell dat have true nuclei i.e have cell membrane
we have 46 pair of somatic cell and 23 pair of chromosomes in our body, pls can someone explain it to me. pls
Matilda Reply
we have 22 pairs of somatic chromosomes and one pair of sex chromosome
we have 23 pairs of chromosomes,22 pairs of somatic and one pair of sex chromosomes
23 chromosomes from dad & 23 chromosomes from mom 23 +23=46 total chromosomes
X & Y chromosomes are called sex cells, the very presence of a Y chromosome means the person is Male.
XX Female XY Male
If a Karyotype has more than 46 Chromosomes then nondisjunction occured. For example, having an extra chromosome 21 will cause Down Syndrome.
am caira I want to join
caira,whrere are u from
I'm a Ghanaian

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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