The Language of Embryology

The vocabulary of embryonic development can be difficult to learn. To describe what happens, researchers had to give names to parts of the embryo, and most of these names are unfamiliar words. They were coined at a time when scientists knew and used Latin and Greek, and most of them are derived from a fairly small number of Latin and Greek roots. If you are familiar with some of these roots, then the terms don't seem quite so arbitrary, and you may find it easier to remember them. The following list is not exhaustive, but it should help you decipher some of the terms you will encounter during the course.

You do NOT have to memorize this list!!

Prefix and/or Suffix Meaning Examples
-Blast Precursor cell Myoblast
Coel- / -coel Cavity Coelom, blastocoel
cyto- / -cyte Cell Cytoskeleton, erythrocyte
Derma- / -derm Layer, skin Dermatome, mersoderm
Ecto- Outer Ectoderm
Endo- Inner Endoderm
Epi- Above Epiblast
Exo- Out of Exocytosis
Hetero- Different Heterozygous
Holo- Whole Holoblastic
Hypo- Under Hypoblast
Iso- Same, uniform Isolecithal
Karyo- / -karyon Nucleus (seed) Karyotype, heterokaryon
Kineto- / -kinesis Movement Kinetochore, cytokinesis
Macro- Large Macrophage
Mero- / -mere Part Meroblastic, blastomere
Meso- Middle Mesoderm
Meta- Middle Metaphase
Multi- Many Multicellular
Myo- Muscle Myoblast
Osteo- Bone Osteoblast
Ovi- Egg Oviduct
Peri- Around Perivitelline
Phago- / -phage Eating, eater Phagocytosis, macrophage
Pluri- Multiple Pluripotent
Poly- Many Polyspermy
Pro- Before Pronucleus
Soma- / -some Body Somatic, acrosome
Stomo- / -stome Mouth Deuterostome
Telo- End Telolecithal, telomere
Toti- All totipotent
Tropho- / -troph / -trophy Change Trophoblast, hypertrophy
Uni- One Unicellular

This table has been modified from a list made by Bill Wood at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

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