An embryo is an early stage of development of a multicellular diploid eukaryotic organism. In general, in organisms that reproduce sexually, an embryo develops from a zygote, the single cell resulting from the fertilization of the female egg cell by the male sperm cell. The zygote possesses half the DNA from each of its two parents. In plants, animals, and some protists, the zygote will begin to divide by mitosis to produce a multicellular organism. The result of this process is an embryo.

In human pregnancy, a developing fetus is considered as an embryo until the ninth week, fertilization age, or eleventh-week gestational age. After this time the embryo is referred to as a fetus.[1]

Embryo 7 weeks after conception
A human embryo, seven weeks old
or nine weeks' gestational age
Anatomical terminology


First attested in English in the mid-14c., the word embryon derives from Medieval Latin embryo, itself from Greek ἔμβρυον (embruon), lit. "young one",[2] which is the neuter of ἔμβρυος (embruos), lit. "growing in",[3] from ἐν (en), "in"[4] and βρύω (bruō), "swell, be full";[5] the proper Latinized form of the Greek term would be embryum.


Embryonic development of salamander, circa the 1920s
Wrinkledfrog embryos
Embryos (and one tadpole) of the wrinkled frog (Rana rugosa)

In animals, the development of the zygote into an embryo proceeds through specific recognizable stages of blastula, gastrula, and organogenesis. The blastula stage typically features a fluid-filled cavity, the blastocoel, surrounded by a sphere or sheet of cells, also called blastomeres. In a placental mammal, an ovum is fertilized in a fallopian tube through which it travels into the uterus. An embryo is called a fetus at a more advanced stage of development and up until birth or hatching. In humans, this is from the eleventh week of gestation. However, animals which develop in eggs outside the mother's body, are usually referred to as embryos throughout development; e.g. one would refer to a chick embryo, not a "chick fetus", even at later stages.

During gastrulation the cells of the blastula undergo coordinated processes of cell division, invasion, and/or migration to form two (diploblastic) or three (triploblastic) tissue layers. In triploblastic organisms, the three germ layers are called endoderm, ectoderm, and mesoderm. The position and arrangement of the germ layers are highly species-specific, however, depending on the type of embryo produced. In vertebrates, a special population of embryonic cells called the neural crest has been proposed as a "fourth germ layer", and is thought to have been an important novelty in the evolution of head structures.

During organogenesis, molecular and cellular interactions between germ layers, combined with the cells' developmental potential, or competence to respond, prompt the further differentiation of organ-specific cell types. For example, in neurogenesis, a subpopulation of ectoderm cells is set aside to become the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. Modern developmental biology is extensively probing the molecular basis for every type of organogenesis, including angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels from pre-existing ones), chondrogenesis (cartilage), myogenesis (muscle), osteogenesis (bone), and many others.

Plant embryos

Ginkgo embryo and gametophyte
The inside of a Ginkgo seed, showing the embryo

In botany, a seed plant embryo is part of a seed, consisting of precursor tissues for the leaves, stem (see hypocotyl), and root (see radicle), as well as one or more cotyledons. Once the embryo begins to germinate—grow out from the seed—it is called a seedling (plantlet).

Bryophytes and ferns also produce an embryo, but do not produce seeds. In these plants, the embryo begins its existence attached to the inside of the archegonium on a parental gametophyte from which the egg cell was generated. The inner wall of the archegonium lies in close contact with the "foot" of the developing embryo; this "foot" consists of a bulbous mass of cells at the base of the embryo which may receive nutrition from its parent gametophyte. The structure and development of the rest of the embryo varies by group of plants. As the embryo has expanded beyond the enclosing archegonium, it is no longer termed an embryo.

Research and technology

Embryos are used in various fields of research and in techniques of assisted reproductive technology. An egg may be fertilized in vitro and the resulting embryo may be frozen for later use. The potential of embryonic stem cell research, reproductive cloning, and germline engineering are currently being explored. Prenatal diagnosis or preimplantation diagnosis enables testing embryos for diseases or conditions.

Cryoconservation of animal genetic resources is a practice in which animal germplasms, such as embryos are collected and stored at low temperatures with the intent of conserving the genetic material.

The embryos of Arabidopsis thaliana have been used as a model to understand gene activation, patterning, and organogenesis of seed plants.[6]

In regards to research using human embryos, the ethics and legalities of this application continue to be debated.[7][8][9]

Researchers from MERLN Institute and the Hubrecht Institute in the Netherlands managed to grow samples of synthetic rodent embryoids, combining certain types of stem cells. This method may assist scientists to understand the very first moments of the process of the birth of a new life, which, in turn, can lead to the emergence of new effective methods to combat infertility and other genetic diseases.[10]

Fossilized embryos

Fossilized animal embryos are known from the Precambrian, and are found in great numbers during the Cambrian period. Even fossilized dinosaur embryos have been discovered.[11]

Miscarriage and abortion

Human Embryo - Approximately 8 weeks estimated gestational age
A complete spontaneous abortion at about 6 weeks from conception, i.e. 8 weeks from LMP

Some embryos do not survive to the next stage of development. When this happens naturally, it is called spontaneous abortion or miscarriage.[12] There are many reasons why this may occur. The most common natural cause of miscarriage is chromosomal abnormality in animals[13] or genetic load in plants.[14]

In species which produce multiple embryos at the same time, miscarriage or abortion of some embryos can provide the remaining embryos with a greater share of maternal resources. This can also disturb the pregnancy, causing harm to the second embryo. Genetic strains which miscarry their embryos are the source of commercial seedless fruits.

Abortion is the process of artificially (non-naturally) removing the embryo through deliberate pharmaceutical or surgical methods.

See also


  1. ^ "embryo". Mayo. Archived from the original on 20 February 2016. Retrieved 21 February 2016.
  2. ^ ἔμβρυον Archived 2013-05-31 at the Wayback Machine, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  3. ^ ἔμβρυος Archived 2013-05-31 at the Wayback Machine, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  4. ^ ἐν Archived 2013-05-31 at the Wayback Machine, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  5. ^ βρύω Archived 2013-05-31 at the Wayback Machine, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  6. ^ Boscá, S; Knauer, S; Laux, T (2011). "Embryonic development in Arabidopsis thaliana: from the zygote division to the shoot meristem". Frontiers in Plant Science. 2: 93. doi:10.3389/fpls.2011.00093. PMC 3355580. PMID 22639618.
  7. ^ Freedman, Jeri. "America Debates Stem Cell Research." New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group, 2008.
  8. ^ Sandel, Michael J. "The Case Against Perfection." Michael J. Sandel, 2007.
  9. ^ Zavos, Panayiotis. "Reproductive Cloning is Moral." Ed. James Woodward. The Ethics of Human Cloning: At Issue. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven, 2005. 14–24.
  10. ^ "Scientists grow synthetic mouse embryos from stem cells" Archived 2018-05-08 at the Wayback Machine New Atlas, May 4, 2018
  11. ^ Morelle, Rebecca. "Dinosaur embryo fossils reveal life inside the egg". BBC News. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
  12. ^ miscarriage "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-05-12. Retrieved 2016-05-15.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ Conrad Stöppler, Melissa. Shiel Jr., William C. (ed.). "Miscarriage (Spontaneous Abortion)". MedicineNet.com. Archived from the original on 2004-08-29. Retrieved 2009-04-07.
  14. ^ Kärkkäinen, Katri; Savolainen, Outi; Koski, Veikko (1999). "Why do plants abort so many developing seeds: bad offspring or bad maternal genotypes?". Evolutionary Ecology. 13 (3): 305–317. doi:10.1023/A:1006746900736.

External links

Preceded by
Animal development
Succeeded by
Fetus, Hatchling, Larva
Balut (food)

Balut ( bə-LOOT, BAH-loot; also spelled as balot) is a developing bird embryo (usually a duck) that is boiled and eaten from the shell. It originated from and is commonly sold as street food in the Philippines.

The Tagalog and Malay word balot means "wrapped". The length of incubation before the egg is cooked is a matter of local preference, but generally ranges between 14 and 21 days.

The eating of balut is controversial due to religious, animal welfare, and human health concerns.

Cleavage (embryo)

In embryology, cleavage is the division of cells in the early embryo. The process follows fertilization, with the transfer being triggered by the activation of a cyclin-dependent kinase complex. The zygotes of many species undergo rapid cell cycles with no significant overall growth, producing a cluster of cells the same size as the original zygote. The different cells derived from cleavage are called blastomeres and form a compact mass called the morula. Cleavage ends with the formation of the blastula.

Depending mostly on the amount of yolk in the egg, the cleavage can be holoblastic (total or entire cleavage) or meroblastic (partial cleavage). The pole of the egg with the highest concentration of yolk is referred to as the vegetal pole while the opposite is referred to as the animal pole.

Cleavage differs from other forms of cell division in that it increases the number of cells and nuclear mass without increasing the cytoplasmic mass. This means that with each successive subdivision, there is roughly half the cytoplasm in each daughter cell than before that division, and thus the ratio of nuclear to cytoplasmic material increases.

Development of the human body

Human development is the process of growth to maturity. The process begins with fertilisation, where an egg released from the ovary of a female is penetrated by a sperm cell from a male. The egg then lodges in the uterus, where an embryo and later fetus develop until birth. Further growth and development continues after birth, and includes both physical and psychological development, influenced by genetic, hormonal, environmental and other factors. This continues throughout life, through childhood, and adolescence into adulthood.

Developmental biology

Developmental biology is the study of the process by which animals and plants grow and develop. Developmental biology also encompasses the biology of regeneration, asexual reproduction, metamorphosis, and the growth and differentiation of stem cells in the adult organism.

In the late 20th century, the discipline largely transformed into evolutionary developmental biology.


The egg is the organic vessel containing the zygote in which an embryo develops until it can survive on its own; at which point the animal hatches. An egg results from fertilization of an egg cell. Most arthropods, vertebrates (excluding mammals), and mollusks lay eggs, although some, such as scorpions do not.

Reptile eggs, bird eggs, and monotreme eggs are laid out of water, and are surrounded by a protective shell, either flexible or inflexible. Eggs laid on land or in nests are usually kept within a warm and favorable temperature range while the embryo grows. When the embryo is adequately developed it hatches, i.e. breaks out of the egg's shell. Some embryos have a temporary egg tooth they use to crack, pip, or break the eggshell or covering.

The largest recorded egg is from a whale shark, and was 30 cm × 14 cm × 9 cm (11.8 in × 5.5 in × 3.5 in) in size. Whale shark eggs typically hatch within the mother. At 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) and up to 17.8 cm × 14 cm (7.0 in × 5.5 in), the ostrich egg is the largest egg of any living bird, though the extinct elephant bird and some dinosaurs laid larger eggs. The bee hummingbird produces the smallest known bird egg, which weighs half of a gram (around 0.02 oz). Some eggs laid by reptiles and most fish, amphibians, insects and other invertebrates can be even smaller.

Reproductive structures similar to the egg in other kingdoms are termed "spores," or in spermatophytes "seeds," or in gametophytes "egg cells".

Embryo transfer

Embryo transfer refers to a step in the process of assisted reproduction in which embryos are placed into the uterus of a female with the intent to establish a pregnancy. This technique (which is often used in connection with in vitro fertilization (IVF)), may be used in humans or in animals, in which situations the goals may vary.

Embryo transfer can be done at day two or day three, or later in the blastocyst stage, which was first performed in 1984.


Embryology (from Greek ἔμβρυον, embryon, "the unborn, embryo"; and -λογία, -logia) is the branch of biology that studies the prenatal development of gametes (sex cells), fertilization, and development of embryos and fetuses. Additionally, embryology encompasses the study of congenital disorders that occur before birth, known as teratology.Embryology has a long history. Aristotle proposed the currently accepted theory of epigenesis, that organisms develop from seed or egg in a sequence of steps. The alternative theory, preformationism, that organisms develop from pre-existing miniature versions of themselves, however, held sway until the 18th century. Modern embryology developed from the work of von Baer, though accurate observations had been made in Italy by anatomists such as Aldrovandi and Leonardo da Vinci in the Renaissance.

Embryonic development

Embryonic development also embryogenesis is the process by which the embryo forms and develops. In mammals, the term refers chiefly to early stages of prenatal development, whereas the terms fetus and fetal development describe later stages.

Embryonic development starts with the fertilization of the egg cell (ovum) by a sperm cell, (spermatozoon). Once fertilized, the ovum is referred to as a zygote, a single diploid cell. The zygote undergoes mitotic divisions with no significant growth (a process known as cleavage) and cellular differentiation, leading to development of a multicellular embryo.

Although embryogenesis occurs in both animal and plant development, this article addresses the common features among different animals, with some emphasis on the embryonic development of vertebrates and mammals.


A gametophyte () is one of the two alternating phases in the life cycle of plants and algae. It is a haploid multicellular organism that develops from a haploid spore that has one set of chromosomes. The gametophyte is the sexual phase in the life cycle of plants and algae. It develops sex organs that produce gametes, haploid sex cells that participate in fertilization to form a diploid zygote which has a double set of chromosomes. Cell division of the zygote results in a new diploid multicellular organism, the second stage in the life cycle known as the sporophyte. The sporophyte can produce haploid spores by meiosis.


Gestation is the period of development during the carrying of an embryo or fetus inside viviparous animals. It is typical for mammals, but also occurs for some non-mammals. Mammals during pregnancy can have one or more gestations at the same time for example in a multiple birth.

The time interval of a gestation is called the gestation period. In human obstetrics, gestational age refers to the embryonic or fetal age plus two weeks. This is approximately the duration since the woman's last menstrual period (LMP) began.

Human embryonic development

Human embryonic development, or human embryogenesis, refers to the development and formation of the human embryo. It is characterised by the process of cell division and cellular differentiation of the embryo that occurs during the early stages of development. In biological terms, the development of the human body entails growth from a one-celled zygote to an adult human being. Fertilisation occurs when the sperm cell successfully enters and fuses with an egg cell (ovum). The genetic material of the sperm and egg then combine to form a single cell called a zygote and the germinal stage of development commences. Embryonic development in the human, covers the first eight weeks of development; at the beginning of the ninth week the embryo is termed a fetus.

Human embryology is the study of this development during the first eight weeks after fertilisation. The normal period of gestation (pregnancy) is nine months or 38 weeks.

The germinal stage refers to the time from fertilization through the development of the early embryo until implantation is completed in the uterus. The germinal stage takes around 10 days. During this stage, the zygote begins to divide, in a process called cleavage. A blastocyst is then formed and implanted in the uterus. Embryogenesis continues with the next stage of gastrulation, when the three germ layers of the embryo form in a process called histogenesis, and the processes of neurulation and organogenesis follow.

In comparison to the embryo, the fetus has more recognizable external features and a more complete set of developing organs. The entire process of embryogenesis involves coordinated spatial and temporal changes in gene expression, cell growth and cellular differentiation. A nearly identical process occurs in other species, especially among chordates.

Implantation (human embryo)

In humans, implantation is the stage of pregnancy at which the embryo adheres to the wall of the uterus. At this stage of prenatal development, the conceptus is called a blastocyst. It is by this adhesion that the embryo receives oxygen and nutrients from the mother to be able to grow.

In humans, implantation of a fertilized ovum is most likely to occur around 9 days after ovulation; however, this can range between 6 and 12 days.

In vitro fertilisation

In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is a process of fertilisation where an egg is combined with sperm outside the body, in vitro ("in glass"). The process involves monitoring and stimulating a woman's ovulatory process, removing an ovum or ova (egg or eggs) from the woman's ovaries and letting sperm fertilise them in a liquid in a laboratory. After the fertilised egg (zygote) undergoes embryo culture for 2–6 days, it is implanted in the same or another woman's uterus, with the intention of establishing a successful pregnancy.

IVF is a type of assisted reproductive technology used for infertility treatment and gestational surrogacy. A fertilised egg may be implanted into a surrogate's uterus, and the resulting child is genetically unrelated to the surrogate. Some countries banned or otherwise regulate the availability of IVF treatment, giving rise to fertility tourism. Restrictions on the availability of IVF include costs and age, in order for a woman to carry a healthy pregnancy to term. IVF is generally not used until less invasive or expensive options have failed or been determined unlikely to work.

In 1978 Louise Brown was the first child successfully born after her mother received IVF treatment. Brown was born as a result of natural-cycle IVF, where no stimulation was made. The procedure took place at Dr Kershaw's Cottage Hospital (now Dr Kershaw's Hospice) in Royton, Oldham, England. Robert G. Edwards was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2010. The physiologist co-developed the treatment together with Patrick Steptoe and embryologist Jean Purdy but the latter two were not eligible for consideration as they had died and the Nobel Prize is not awarded posthumously.

With egg donation and IVF, women who are past their reproductive years, have infertile male partners, have idiopathic female-fertility issues, or have reached menopause, can still become pregnant. Adriana Iliescu held the record as the oldest woman to give birth using IVF and donated egg, when she gave birth in 2004 at the age of 66, a record passed in 2006. After the IVF treatment, some couples get pregnant without any fertility treatments. In 2018 it was estimated that eight million children had been born worldwide using IVF and other assisted reproduction techniques.


Macapuno or coconut sport is a naturally occurring coconut cultivar which has an abnormal development of the endosperm. The result of this abnormal development is a soft translucent jelly-like flesh that fills almost the entire central cavity of coconut seeds, with little to no coconut water. Macapuno was first described scientifically from wild specimens in 1931 by Edwin Copeland. They were first cultivated commercially in the Philippines after the development of the "embryo rescue" in vitro culture technology in the 1960s by Emerita V. De Guzman. It has become an important crop in coconut-producing countries and is now widely used in the cuisines of Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the Pacific Islands.


In seed plants, the ovule is the structure that gives rise to and contains the female reproductive cells. It consists of three parts: The integument, forming its outer layer, the nucellus (or remnant of the megasporangium), and the female gametophyte (formed from a haploid megaspore) in its center. The female gametophyte — specifically termed a megagametophyte— is also called the embryo sac in angiosperms. The megagametophyte produces an egg cell for the purpose of fertilization.

Prenatal development

Prenatal development (from Latin natalis, meaning 'relating to birth') includes the development of the embryo and of the fetus during a viviparous animal's gestation. Prenatal development starts with fertilization, in the germinal stage of embryonic development, and continues in fetal development until birth.

In human pregnancy, prenatal development is also called antenatal development. The development of the human embryo follows fertilization, and continues as fetal development. By the end of the tenth week of gestational age the embryo has acquired its basic form and is referred to as a fetus. The next period is that of fetal development where many organs become fully developed. This fetal period is described both topically (by organ) and chronologically (by time) with major occurrences being listed by gestational age.

The very early stages of embryonic development are the same in all mammals. Later stages of development across all taxa of animals and the length of gestation vary.


A seed is an embryonic plant enclosed in a protective outer covering. The formation of the seed is part of the process of reproduction in seed plants, the spermatophytes, including the gymnosperm and angiosperm plants.

Seeds are the product of the ripened ovule, after fertilization by pollen and some growth within the mother plant. The embryo is developed from the zygote and the seed coat from the integuments of the ovule.

Seeds have been an important development in the reproduction and success of gymnosperm and angiosperm plants, relative to more primitive plants such as ferns, mosses and liverworts, which do not have seeds and use water-dependent means to propagate themselves. Seed plants now dominate biological niches on land, from forests to grasslands both in hot and cold climates.

The term "seed" also has a general meaning that antedates the above – anything that can be sown, e.g. "seed" potatoes, "seeds" of corn or sunflower "seeds". In the case of sunflower and corn "seeds", what is sown is the seed enclosed in a shell or husk, whereas the potato is a tuber.

Many structures commonly referred to as "seeds" are actually dry fruits. Plants producing berries are called baccate. Sunflower seeds are sometimes sold commercially while still enclosed within the hard wall of the fruit, which must be split open to reach the seed. Different groups of plants have other modifications, the so-called stone fruits (such as the peach) have a hardened fruit layer (the endocarp) fused to and surrounding the actual seed. Nuts are the one-seeded, hard-shelled fruit of some plants with an indehiscent seed, such as an acorn or hazelnut.


Among animals which produce one, the yolk (also known as the vitellus) is the nutrient-bearing portion of the egg whose primary function is to supply food for the development of the embryo. Some kinds of egg contain no yolk, for example because they are laid in situations where the food supply is sufficient (such as in the body of the host of a parasitoid) or because the embryo develops in the parent's body, which supplies the food, usually through a placenta. Reproductive systems in which the mother's body supplies the embryo directly are said to be matrotrophic; those in which the embryo is supplied by yolk are said to be lecithotrophic. In many species, such as all birds, and most reptiles and insects, the yolk takes the form of a special storage organ constructed in the reproductive tract of the mother. In many other animals, especially very small species such as some fishes and invertebrates, the yolk material is not in a special organ, but inside the ovum.

As stored food, yolks are often rich in vitamins, minerals, lipids and proteins. The proteins function partly as food in their own right, and partly in controlling the storage and supply of the other nutrients. For example, in some species the amount of yolk in an egg cell affects the developmental processes that follow fertilization.

The yolk is not living cell material like protoplasm, but largely passive material, that is to say deutoplasm. The food material and associated control structures are supplied during oogenesis. Some of the material is stored more or less in the form in which the maternal body supplied it, partly as processed by dedicated non-germ tissues in the egg, while part of the biosynthetic processing into its final form happens in the oocyte itself.Apart from animals, other organisms, like algae, specially in the oogamous, can also accumulate resources in their female gametes. In gymnosperms, the remains of the female gametophyte serve also as food supply, and in flowering plants, the endosperm.

Yolk sac

The yolk sac is a membranous sac attached to an embryo, formed by cells of the hypoblast adjacent to the embryonic disk. This is alternatively called the umbilical vesicle by the Terminologia Embryologica (TE), though yolk sac is far more widely used. In humans, the yolk sac is important in early embryonic blood supply, and much of it is incorporated into the primordial gut during the fourth week of development.

Plant groups
Plant morphology
Plant growth and habit
Plant taxonomy
  • Lists
  • Related topics
Human embryogenesis in the first three weeks
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Before birth
Birth and after
Social and legal

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.