Embryological Doodles


I made these embryological drawings about a year ago. They’ve been sat at the bottom of a drawer ever since and I thought I ought to do something with them. They were drawn mainly because I was bored so they’re nothing special, but I quite like a couple of them. The original images are sourced from the Science Photo Library and I’ve included the reference numbers to the original images in each description, as well as a little bit about some interesting biological aspect of the picture.

 IVF embryo testing

SPL Ref. No.: M802/194

Drawn with felt-tip and biro.

This is an eight-cell stage human embryo. It is held in place by the needle on the left. The zona pellucida surrounding the embryo is pierced and 1-2 cells are removed for genetic analysis. Removing this much material from the embryo is not detrimental to its development. If shown to be healthy the embryo can be implanted into a woman.

Sea urchin four-cell embryo

SPL Ref. No.: P681/083

Drawn with felt-tip and biro

This image depicts a cleavage stage embryo as does the image above. Cleavage is when a fertilised egg begins to divide without increasing in volume. This means the cells multiply and get smaller. This process allows the selective distribution of molecules inherited from the mother that determine the axes of the embryo (i.e. head/tail, left/right, front/back).


Embryonic stem cell and needle, SEM

SPL Ref. No.: G442/289

Drawn with felt-tip and biro

This image depicts a single embryonic stem cell (ESC) in the eye of a needle captured by a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). The colour is false to create better contrast between the two objects. Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent, which means they are able to become any human body cell. They are sourced from blastocysts, by which point the cells that will become the Extra-Embryonic Tissue (EET), e.g. the placenta, have already separated from the cells that will form the body. This means that the ESCs are not totipotent (able to form all human cells) as they cannot form EET.

Sperm production, SEM

SPL Ref. No.: P608/154

Drawn with felt-tip and biro.

Sperm production takes approximately 41 days. This image depicts a later stage of spermatogenesis, where the head and tail are already well-defined. The heads are attached to a layer of Sertoli cells, which support their development by secreting signalling molecules. Again the colour is false and applied to enable easier differentiation between the structures.

Cat Embryo

SPL Ref. No.: P681/103

Pencil drawing.

This is a two week old cat embryo. A cat’s gestation period is ~63-65 days so if you scale that up this is more or less the equivalent of 10 weeks in a human gestation. The dark region in the abdomen shows that the heart and intestines are developing and on the original image a faint outline of the spine is visible. At this stage the paws are paddle-like. Later in development the cells between what will become the toes die leaving defined structures.

Frontal view of a six-week old embryo

SPL Ref. No.: P680/480

Pencil drawing

This is what you looked like at around 44 embryonic days old. You had a stubby little tail and webbed hands and feet. The tube between the feet is the umbilical cord, which is basically what you ate, breathed, peed and pooped through. The umbilical cord is a source of blood stem cells. Umbilical cord blood banks have popped up worldwide. Parents can donate their child’s umbilical cord to a public bank so that the blood may be used to replenish the blood system of a patient. For example, patients undergoing chemo- and radiotherapy for leukaemia may have their blood systems replenished by the infusion of umbilical cord blood. Private banks also exist. If your child develops a blood disease the cells stored from the umbilical cord may be transfused into the child. There aren’t a great deal of blood stem cells in umbilical cord blood so after a certain age an infusion from one’s own cord becomes insufficient. Transfusions from other donors require immunosuppression, but you can double-up on cord blood units, making them suitable for older children-adults.

LM of a human embryo at four-cell stage, after IVF

SPL Ref. No.: P680/287

Pencil drawing

This is a four-cell human embryo that has been produced using In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF). In the original photo well-defined sperm tails can be seen swimming around the embryo. When IVF was first introduced it was considered highly controversial by some. Indeed the Catholic Church continues to condemn IVF. In 2008, 15,082 babies were successfully birthed after IVF with a 24.1% cycle success rate. According to NICE infertility is the second most common reason for a woman aged 20-45 to visit their doctor, the first being pregnancy.

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4 thoughts on “Embryological Doodles

  1. Informative and beautifully drawn. I had no idea that art was one of your many talents. What materials did you use? Watercolour paint and watercolour paint pencils? xxx

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