Clarifying tetrapod embryogenesis by a dorso-ventral analysis of the tissue flows during early stages of chicken development

Biosystems. 2012 Sep;109(3):460-74. doi: 10.1016/j.biosystems.2012.04.003. Epub 2012 Apr 27.


The formation of an animal body remains largely a mystery. It is still not clear whether anything like an organization plan or an "archetype" as coined by Darwin himself, actually exists, or whether animals are organized by a succession of stop-and-go genetic, non-linear, instructions with no global pattern. Nevertheless, it was recognized long ago that the early stages of amniote development consist of large scale rotatory movements over a discoidal blastula (Wetzel, 1924). Such rotatory movements reshuffle a mass inside a finite volume, and thus may have to bear physical conservation laws which contribute to establish the plan of animals in a global fashion. In this article I use dual dorso-ventral imaging of the chicken blastula, to show experimentally that the global movement of early vertebrate embryogenesis is organized with a very simple topology, around and away of a series of hyperbolic points in the vector flow of movement. At the first hyperbolic point, a layer of tissue (the mesoderm) ingresses and moves as a viscous sheet radially. It is found that the sheet flows away with a scaling law for the radius R(t)∼exp(t/τ). Also, the movement of this mesoderm changes the flow on the other layer (the ectoderm) by the principle of action and reaction. By mesoderm wetting the ectoderm, the first hyperbolic point migrates from the anal region, to the umbilical region. The final location of the hyperbolic point defines eventually the central part of the body (the umbilical region). Thus, the formation of the vertebrate body is fixed, as a global movement, by the dynamics of singular points in the visco-elastic flow, governed by mechanical forces within the tissue.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Patterning / physiology*
  • Chick Embryo
  • Embryonic Development / physiology*
  • Mesoderm / physiology*
  • Microscopy
  • Models, Biological*
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Rheology
  • Rotation*