A program that focuses on the scientific study of embryology, development, and growth of animals and human beings. Includes instruction in fertilization, oogenesis, histogenesis, gastrulation, and cell differentiation; embryological development including organ and pattern formation, morphogenesis, gene regulation, cell lineage, and fate maps; disease and defect studies; transgenic and evolutionary models of growth and development; and applications to specific organisms and phyla.

Careers in developmental biology and embryology focus on the growth and development patterns of living organisms.

We all come from somewhere; every plant starts as a seed, and every bird starts in an egg. But something happens between this point and maturity; this crucial time frame is where developmental biologists and embryologists focus their studies. To be precise, embryologists study the formation of embryos and any fetal development that occurs prior to birth, whereas developmental biologists track growth and change throughout an organism's lifespan, from initial fertilization through eventual death. There are many observable growth patterns that can occur, from minor hair growth upon maturity to a complete metamorphosis.

The applications of developmental biology are broad, and can include clinical practices such as in-vitro fertilization or gestational ultrasounds. Embryologists in particular can dig deep into genetics and environmental science in their quest to understand how a single cell becomes a full creature. Some developmental biologists work with immature cells called stem cells, which have the unique capacity to renew themselves, and encourage them to take on certain functions as part of treatments.

Work in developmental biology or embryology may include...

  • Initiating or monitoring fertilization and gestation
  • Observing the changes in organisms as they grow
  • Identifying chemical, hormonal, or environmental triggers for changes
  • Assessing abnormal markers of growth and development
  • Collecting and analyzing data

Many embryologists in particular work in obstetrics and reproductive services, and it's common to find them in different corners of nursing, medicine, and veterinary science. Some developmental biologists focus their studies on the growth of teeth and go on to careers in dentistry, while others work with animals in special breeding programs, such as livestock or endangered species in captivity. Researchers may work in labs run by hospitals, universities, and government agencies. Research varies widely by field and discipline; many developmental biologists are involved with discoveries in stem cell research or test ways to delay or manipulate the processes of growth; others may study the development of a particular species of plant or animal. Those in academia are usually independent researchers, university lecturers, and biology teachers.

Becoming a developmental biologist or embryologist requires a comprehensive education in biology. Most begin their studies in Bachelor's degree programs, where they study evolutionary biology, reproductive anatomy, physiology, and genetics. Upon graduating, there are many available paths: some students opt for graduate training in Master's and PhD programs, while others may go to medical school or obtain certifications in specialty care.

The origins of life are extraordinary, taking all kinds of organisms from single celled entities to fully independent beings. If you're fascinated by that process, developmental biology and embryology might be the field for you.

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