Modern embryology, using the techniques of molecular biology, genetics, and other disciplines, has focused on the question of what makes the embryo differentiate (see differentiation), what genetically directed molecular signals tell a single cell to divide and follow the specific pattern of growth and specialization that results in a complex multicellular organism with species-specific and individual characteristics.
Karl Ernst von Baer, who developed the biogenetic law, is generally regarded as the founder of embryology. E. H. Haeckel's
ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny gave weight to the theory of evolution (see recapitulation). Other researchers in the field of embryology have included C. F. Wolff, M. J. Schleiden, and T. Schwann, developers of the cell theory; F. M. Balfour; H. Spemann; O. Hertwig; F. R. Lillie; and R. Levi-Montalcini.
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