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Recent technical advances including digital imaging and particle image velocimetry can be used to extract the full range of embryonic movements that constitute the instantaneous ‘morphogenetic fields’ of a developing animal. The final shape of the animal results from the sum over time (integral) of the movements that make up the velocity fields of all the tissue constituents. In vivo microscopy can be used to capture the details of vertebrate development at the earliest embryonic stages. The movements thus observed can be quantitatively compared to physical models that provide velocity fields based on simple hypotheses about the nature of living matter (a visco-elastic gel). This approach has cast new light on the interpretation of embryonic movement, folding, and organisation. It has established that several major discontinuities in development are simple physical changes in boundary conditions. In other words, with no change in biology, the physical consequences of collisions between folds largely explain the morphogenesis of the major structures (such as the head). Other discontinuities result from changes in physical conditions, such as bifurcations (changes in physical behaviour beyond specific yield points). For instance, beyond a certain level of stress, a tissue folds, without any new gene being involved. An understanding of the physical features of movement provides insights into the levers that drive evolution; the origin of animals is seen more clearly when viewed under the light of the fundamental physical laws (Newton's principle, action-reaction law, changes in symmetry breaking scale). This article describes the genesis of a vertebrate embryo from the shapeless stage (round mass of tissue) to the development of a small, elongated, bilaterally symmetric structure containing vertebral precursors, hip and shoulder enlarges, and a head.Le texte complet de cet article est disponible en PDF.
Keywords : Embryogenesis, Vertebrates, Time-lapse imaging, Developmental biomechanics