Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
From one cell to blastocyst
A whole human (as any other animal) starts as one single cell, an oocyte (egg). This oocyte after being fertilised by a single sperm, is called the zygote. It is surrounded by a strong membrane (made of glycoproteins) called the zona pellucida which the successful sperm has managed to penetrate.
The zygote divides by mitosis, often called cleavage, and the number of cells keeps doubling within the zona pellucida. When there are about 4-16 cells this is called the morula. When the number of cells reaches 40-150 cells a small cavity (blastocoele) forms. The zona pellucida is still present but is degenerating. This stage in the developing embryo is the blastocyst.
Blastocyst grows and invades
In the blastocyst, the cavity (blastocoele) enlarges and two types of cells become apparent: the trophoblast (cells which will eventually form the placenta) and the inner cell mass (or embryoblast). These inner cells of the blastocyst are undifferentiated and a source of embryonic stem cells. The trophoblast can be thought of as a mostly single layer of cells forming a ball, with the inner cell mass inside this 'ball' attached to the inner wall. By this stage the conceptus (the embryo plus associated membranes) will be in the uterus and going to implant. The zona pellucida ultimately disappears.
The trophoblast then differentiates into two distinct layers. An inner cytotrophoblast , consisting of cuboidal cells that are the source of dividing cells, and the outer syncytiotrophoblast .
It is the syncytiotrophoblast that helps the blastocyst implant in the epithelium of the uterus. It forms finger-like projections that make their way into the uterus. This is assisted by hydrolytic enzymes that erode the epithelium. The syncytiotrophoblast also produces hCG, a hormone that "notifies" the mother's body (though not necessarily the mother!) that she's pregnant.
The invading syncytiotrophoblast forms villi (the finger-like projections) and lacunae (spaces that will fill up with the mother's blood). The villi will branch as development continues, and will contain blood vessels (of the fetus) that allow gas exchange between mother and child.
Differentiation of the inner cell mass (embryoblast)
While the syncytiotrophoblast is starting to penetrate into the wall of the uterus, the inner cell mass (embryoblast) also develops.
The embryoblast forms a bilaminar (two layered) embryo, composed of the epiblast and the hypoblast. The epiblast is adjacent to the trophoblast and made of columnar cells, the hypoblast is closest to the blastocyst cavity, and made of cuboidal cells.
By separating from the trophoblast, the epiblast forms a new cavity, the amniotic cavity. This is lined by the amnionic membrane, with cells that come from the epiblast. The hypoblast forms the exocoelomic cavity, which will become the yolk sac. The primitive yolk sac is lined by Heuser's membrane (also called the exocoelic membrane), and the cells forming this membrane come from the hypoblast.
The primitive (or primary) yolk sac shrinks away from the cytotrophoblast. This creates a new cavity, called the chorionic cavity or extraembryonic coelom. The separated yolk sac is now called the secondary or definitive yolk sac.
The chorionic cavity fills up with fluid, and becomes the largest cavity in the developing conceptus.
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