Archenteron: Definition, Formation & Function

Instructor: Dan Washmuth

Dan has taught college Nutrition and Anatomy courses for several years. He has a B.S. in Exercise Physiology from Furman University and a M.S. in Dietetics & Nutrition from Florida International University. He is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Certified Exercise Physiologist (EP-C)

Archenteron is an internal organ structure early in the development of humans. Explore the topic of archenteron and learn all about its definition, formation, and function in the human body. Updated: 06/17/2022


Archenteron refers to the digestive cavity during the early stages of human development. More specifically, the archenteron is the digestive cavity of an embryo during the gastrula stage, and the archenteron will eventually develop into the complete gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Archenteron Formation

Very early on in the development of a human embryo, the embryo takes the form of a hollow sphere or ball of cells known as a blastula. The outer layer of a blastula consists of a single layer of cells known as the blastoderm, and the inner, hollow area of the blastula is known as the blastocoel.

The blastula consists of a single-celled, outer layer known as the blastoderm and a hollow, inner layer known as the blastocoel.
A picture of a blastula including the blastoderm and blastocoel.

Gastrulation is a process in which the outer layer of the blastula is rearranged to form a multilayered and multidimensional embryonic structure known as a gastrula. A gastrula is an early embryonic structure that contains two or more layers of cells, and a gastrula will later develop into an organ. During gastrulation, the cells of the blastoderm (outer layer of the blastula) move inward toward the blastocoel (hollow area of the blastula).

Think about an inflated balloon. If a person were to push a finger into this balloon, the indentation caused by their finger would form a sort of pocket in the balloon. The inward movement of the blastoderm cells into the blastocoel would form a similar pocket. This pocket is a gastrula, and gastrulas eventually develop into different organs. Archenterons are gastrulas that will eventually develop into the gastrointestinal tract.

A gastrula is a pocket that forms in the blastula, and this pocket forms the archenteron.
A picture of a gastrula and archenteron.

Function of Archenteron

The archenteron is the digestive cavity of an embryo, and this digestive cavity will eventually form the gastrointestinal tract when the embryo fully develops. The gastrointestinal (GI) tract functions to digest (i.e.break down food) and absorb nutrients into the body. The GI tract consists of a hollow tube that extends from the mouth to the anus, and it is divided into several sections, which include:

  • Mouth: The mouth functions to chew and swallow food.
  • Esophagus: The esophagus is the tube that extends from the mouth to the stomach.
  • Stomach: The stomach contains various enzymes and digestive juices that digest food.
  • Small intestine: The small intestine functions to further digest food and then absorb nutrients from the food into the body.
  • Large intestine: The large intestine absorbs water and turns food waste into the stool.
  • Rectum: The rectum functions to store stool until it is ready to be eliminated from the body.
  • Anus: The anus is a circular muscle that opens and closes to regulate defecation.

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