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Genetic Control of Development

The Importance Of Transcription Factors, The European Way And The American Way, Morphogens And Gradients

Development is the process through which a multicellular organism arises from a single cell. During development, cells become specialized, or differentiated, taking on different functions and forms. The organism develops a characteristic three-dimensional shape, the parts of which (such as limbs and organs) continue to maintain the same relationship to each other even as the organism grows. How the genes in a single fertilized egg dictate the creation of a complex multicellular creature is the central question in the genetic control of development.

While we are often most curious about human developmental processes, very little is known about the genetics of human development specifically, because experimentation on human embryos is forbidden by law and ethics. Instead, the details of genetic control are best understood in several model organisms, including the roundworm (Caenorhabditis elegans), the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster), the zebrafish, and the mouse. Each organism differs in the details, and in some cases the overall logic, of genetic control. The understanding of developmental control is not complete for any of these organisms, but scientists have come to understand several mechanisms that contribute to, but do not entirely explain, development.

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Medicine EncyclopediaGenetics in Medicine - Part 1