Morphogenesis requires the spatial and temporal control of embryo mechanics, including force production and mechanical resistance to those forces, to coordinate tissue deformation and large-scale movements. Thus, biomechanical processes play a key role in directly shaping the embryo. Additional roles for embryo mechanics during development may include the patterning of positional information and to provide feedback to ensure the success of morphogenetic movements in shaping the larval body and organs. To understand the multiple roles of mechanics during development requires familiarity with engineering principles of the mechanics of structures, the viscoelastic properties of biomaterials, and the integration of force and stress within embryonic structures as morphogenesis progresses. In this chapter, we review the basic engineering principles of biomechanics as they relate to morphogenesis, introduce methods for quantifying embryo mechanics and the limitations of these methods, and outline a formalism for investigating the role of embryo mechanics in birth defects. We encourage the nascent field of embryo mechanics to adopt standard engineering terms and test methods so that studies of diverse organisms can be compared and universal biomechanical principles can be revealed.
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