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Alberts B, Johnson A, Lewis J, et al. Molecular Biology of the Cell. 4th edition. New York: Garland Science; 2002.

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Molecular Biology of the Cell. 4th edition.

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Chapter 21Development of Multicellular Organisms

An animal or plant starts its life as a single cell—a fertilized egg. During development, this cell divides repeatedly to produce many different cells in a final pattern of spectacular complexity and precision. Ultimately, the genome determines the pattern, and the puzzle of developmental biology is to understand how it does so.

The genome is normally identical in every cell; the cells differ not because they contain different genetic information, but because they express different sets of genes. This selective gene expression controls the four essential processes by which the embryo is constructed: (1) cell proliferation, producing many cells from one, (2) cell specialization, creating cells with different characteristics at different positions, (3) cell interactions, coordinating the behavior of one cell with that of its neighbors, and (4) cell movement, rearranging the cells to form structured tissues and organs (Figure 21-1).

Figure 21-1. The four essential processes by which a multicellular organism is made: cell proliferation, cell specialization, cell interaction, and cell movement.

Figure 21-1

The four essential processes by which a multicellular organism is made: cell proliferation, cell specialization, cell interaction, and cell movement.

In a developing embryo, all these processes are happening at once, in a kaleidoscopic variety of different ways in different parts of the organism. To understand the basic strategies of development, we have to narrow our focus. In particular, we must understand the course of events from the standpoint of the individual cell and the way the genome acts within it. There is no commanding officer standing above the fray to direct the troops; each of the millions of cells in the embryo has to make its own decisions, according to its own copy of the genetic instructions and its own particular circumstances.

The complexity of animals and plants depends on a remarkable feature of the genetic control system. Cells have a memory: the genes a cell expresses and the way it behaves depend on the cell's past as well as its present environment. The cells of your body—the muscle cells, the neurons, the skin cells, the gut cells, and so on—maintain their specialized characters not because they continually receive the same instructions from their surroundings, but because they retain a record of signals their ancestors received in early embryonic development. The molecular mechanisms of cell memory have been introduced in Chapter 7. In this chapter we shall encounter its consequences.

Contents

Universal Mechanisms of Animal Development

Caenorhabditis Elegans: Development from the Perspective of the Individual Cell

Drosophila and the Molecular Genetics of Pattern Formation: Genesis of the Body Plan

Homeotic Selector Genes and the Patterning of the Anteroposterior Axis

Organogenesis and the Patterning of Appendages

Cell Movements and the Shaping of the Vertebrate Body

The Mouse

Neural Development

Plant Development

References

By agreement with the publisher, this book is accessible by the search feature, but cannot be browsed.

Copyright © 2002, Bruce Alberts, Alexander Johnson, Julian Lewis, Martin Raff, Keith Roberts, and Peter Walter; Copyright © 1983, 1989, 1994, Bruce Alberts, Dennis Bray, Julian Lewis, Martin Raff, Keith Roberts, and James D. Watson .
Bookshelf ID: NBK21046

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