Int. J. Dev. Biol. 45: 155 - 164 (2001)
© UPV/EHU Press

Continuity and change: paradigm shifts in neural induction.

S F Gilbert

Department of Biology, Swarthmore College, PA 19081, USA. sgilber1@swarthmore.edu

ABSTRACT The problem of "primary embryonic induction" was one of the first areas of developmental biology to become "molecularized." What had been seen as an intractable series of problems became amenable to the techniques of Northern blotting, ectopic RNA insertion, and in situ hybridization. These molecular analyses showed that some of the fundamental concepts of primary embryonic induction concluded by experimental embryologists were false. First, primary embryonic induction was not primary. The organizer tissue, itself, was the product of a prior induction. Second, the neural fate of cells was not being induced. Rather, the epidermal fate was induced and the neural state was the default, uninduced, fate of ectodermal tissues. Third, primary embryonic induction was not something unique to vertebrates. Rather, the ventral neural cord of insects formed using the same mechanisms as the dorsal neural tube of vertebrates. Fourth, the brain formed in a matter distinctly different from that the spinal cord. Despite these differences, there has been a clear and strong continuity between the experimental embryological tradition and the molecular genetic tradition, and these new results are seen by many contemporary developmental geneticists as strengthening, rather than destroying, the older science.