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Ectoderm Layer: Definition & Derivatives

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  • 0:04 Germ Layers
  • 1:30 Skin & Mouth
  • 2:06 Eyes
  • 2:29 Nervous System
  • 2:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Lynn Swafford

Lynn has a BS and MS in biology and has taught many college biology courses.

Look in the mirror. What do you see? Skin? Hair? Eyes? All of these structures develop from the same embryonic tissue called the ectoderm. Keep watching to find out what other structures are derived from the ectoderm.

Germ Layers

During development, most animals form a gastrula. A gastrula is an embryo that has undergone gastrulation, or the process that produces different germ layers. Germ layers are the initial tissue layers of an embryo, and animals can have up to three of them.

  1. Ectoderm: the outermost layer of cells
  2. Mesoderm: the middle tissue layer
  3. Endoderm: the innermost germ layer

A few groups of animals, such as cnidarians, like jellyfish, corals, and sea anemones, and ctenophores, such as comb jellies, only have two germ layers, which makes them diploblastic. Most other animals, including you, have a triploblastic gastrula. The mesoderm layer is found only in triploblastic animals, but all animals with tissues have at least an endoderm and ectoderm layer.

Each germ layer will develop into different adult tissues and structures. For example, in humans the endoderm forms the lining of internal structures like the stomach and intestines. The mesoderm develops into most of your organ systems, like the skeletal and muscular systems. The ectoderm develops into most external structures, like the skin, mouth, eye, and nervous system.

Skin & Mouth

When you look at yourself in the mirror, most of the structures you see are derived from your embryonic ectoderm layer. This includes the outermost layer of your skin, called the epidermis. It also includes derivatives of your epidermis, such as:

  • Hair
  • Nails
  • Sweat glands
  • Oil glands
  • Mammary glands

If you open up your mouth and look inside at the walls of your cheeks, you are looking at a derivative of ectoderm. The white outer layer of your teeth, or enamel, also develops from the ectoderm layer.

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