On the nature and function of organizers.29 May 2018
Organizers, which comprise groups of cells with the ability to instruct adjacent cells into specific states, represent a key principle in developmental biology. The concept was first introduced by Spemann and Mangold, who showed that there is a cellular population in the newt embryo that elicits the development of a secondary axis from adjacent cells. Similar experiments in chicken and rabbit embryos subsequently revealed groups of cells with similar instructive potential. In birds and mammals, organizer activity is often associated with a structure known as the node, which has thus been considered a functional homologue of Spemann's organizer. Here, we take an in-depth look at the structure and function of organizers across species and note that, whereas the amphibian organizer is a contingent collection of elements, each performing a specific function, the elements of organizers in other species are dispersed in time and space. This observation urges us to reconsider the universality and meaning of the organizer concept.