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Developmental Biology, 6th edition


Author: Scott F. Gilbert

Publisher: Sinauer Associates


Publish Date: Apr-00

ISBN-10: 878932437

Pages: 709

File Type: PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface

The Questions of Developmental Biology

According to Aristotle, the first embryologist known to history, science begins with wonder: “It is owing to wonder that people began to philosophize, and wonder remains the beginning of knowledge.” The development of an animal from an egg has been a source of wonder throughout history. The simple procedure of cracking open a chick egg on each successive day of its 3-week incubation provides a remarkable experience as a thin band of cells is seen to give rise to an entire bird. Aristotle performed this procedure and noted the formation of the major organs. Anyone can wonder at this remarkable yet commonplace phenomenon, but the scientist seeks to discover how development actually occurs. And rather than dissipating wonder, new understanding increases it.

Multicellular organisms do not spring forth fully formed. Rather, they arise by a relatively slow process of progressive change that we call development. In nearly all cases, the development of a multicellular organism begins with a single cell the fertilized egg, or zygote, which divides mitotically to produce all the cells of the body. The study of animal development has traditionally been called embryology, from that stage of an organism that exists between fertilization and birth. But development does not stop at birth, or even at adulthood. Most organisms never stop developing. Each day we replace more than a gram of skin cells (the older cells being sloughed off as we move), and our bone marrow sustains the development of millions of new red blood cells every minute of our lives. In addition, some animals can regenerate severed parts, and many species undero metamorphosis (such as the transformation of a tadpole into a frog, or a caterpillar into a butterfly). Therefore, in recent years it has become customary to speak of developmental biology as the discipline that studies embryonic and other developmental processes.

Development accomplishes two major objectives: it generates cellular diversity and order within each generation, and it ensures the continuity of life from one generation to the next. Thus, there are two fundamental questions in developmental biology: How does the fertilized egg give rise to the adult body, and how does that adult body produce yet another body?

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