Gastrulation occurs when a blastula, made up of one layer, folds inward and enlarges to create a gastrula. This diagram is color-coded: ectoderm, blue; endoderm, green; blastocoel (the yolk sack), yellow; and archenteron (the gut), purple.
Gastrulation is a phase early in the embryonic development of most animals, during which the single-layered blastula is reorganized into a multilayered structure known as the gastrula. Before gastrulation, the embryo is a continuous epithelial sheet of cells; by the end of gastrulation, the embryo has begun differentiation to establish distinct cell lineages, set up the basic axes of the body (e.g. dorsal-ventral, anterior-posterior), and internalized one or more cell types including the prospective gut.
The molecular mechanism and timing of gastrulation is different in different organisms. However, some common features of gastrulation across triploblastic organisms include: (1) A change in the topological structure of the embryo, from a simply connected surface (sphere-like), to a non-simply connected surface (torus-like); (2) the differentiation of cells into one of three types (endodermal, mesodermal, and ectodermal); and (3) the digestive function of a large number of endodermal cells.
Lewis Wolpert, pioneering developmental biologist in the field, has been credited for noting that "It is not birth, marriage, or death, but gastrulation which is truly the most important time in your life."
The terms "gastrula" and "gastrulation" were coined by Ernst Haeckel, in his 1872 work "Biology of Calcareous Sponges".
Classic model systems for understanding gastrulation
Gastrulation is highly variable across the animal kingdom but has underlying similarities. Gastrulation has been studied in many animals, but some models have been used for longer than others. Furthermore, it is easier to study development in animals that develop outside the mother. Animals whose gastrulation is understood in the greatest detail include: