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Embryo

Embryo

An embryo is an early stage of development of a multicellular organism. In general, in organisms that reproduce sexually, embryonic development refers to the portion of the life cycle that begins just after fertilization and continues through the formation of body structures, such as tissues and organs. Each embryo starts development as a zygote, a single cell resulting from the fusion of gametes (i.e. fertilization of a female egg cell by a male sperm cell).

In the first stages of embryonic development, a single-celled zygote undergoes many rapid cell divisions, called cleavage, to form a blastula, which looks similar to a ball of cells. Next, the cells in a blastula-stage embryo start rearranging themselves into layers in a process called gastrulation. These layers will each give rise to different parts of the developing multicellular organism, such as the nervous system, connective tissue, and organs.

A newly developing human is typically referred to as an embryo until the ninth week after conception (see human embryogenesis), when it is then referred to as a fetus. In other multicellular organisms, the word “embryo” can be used more broadly to any early developmental or life cycle stage prior to birth or hatching.