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Gastrulation is a fundamental process during embryonic development, conserved across all multicellular animals [1]. In the majority of metazoans, gastrulation is characterised by large scale morphogenetic remodeling, leading to the conversion of an early pluripotent embryonic cell layer into the three primary 'germ layers': an outer ectoderm, inner endoderm and intervening mesoderm layer. The morphogenesis of these three layers of cells is closely coordinated with cellular diversification, laying the foundation for the generation of the hundreds of distinct specialized cell types in the animal body. The process of gastrulation has for a long time attracted tremendous attention in a broad range of experimental systems ranging from sponges to mice. In humans the process of gastrulation starts approximately 14 days after fertilization and continues for slightly over a week. However our understanding of this important process, as it pertains to human, is limited. Donations of human fetal material at these early stages are exceptionally rare, making it nearly impossible to study human gastrulation directly. Therefore, our understanding of human gastrulation is predominantly derived from animal models such as the mouse [2,3] and from studies of limited collections of fixed whole samples and histological sections of human gastrulae [4-7], some of which date back to over a century ago. More recently we have been gaining valuable molecular insights into human gastrulation using in vitro models of hESCs [8-12] and increasingly, in vitro cultured human and non-human primate embryos [13-16]. However, while methods have been developed to culture human embryos into this stage (and probably beyond), current ethical standards prohibit the culture of human embryos past 14 days again limiting our ability to experimentally probe human gastrulation. This review discusses recent molecular insights from the study of a rare CS 7 human gastrula obtained as a live sample and raises several questions arising from this recent study that it will be interesting to address in the future using emerging models of human gastrulation.

Original publication




Journal article


Semin Cell Dev Biol

Publication Date



Gastrulation, Human development, Transcriptional characterisation