Embryology – Against the Odds

Someday in the future when I get married and have children, I’ll probably be asked: “Daddy, where do babies come from?” A year ago, I would have confidently voiced the “when a man and woman fall in love” lecture which would a.) not answer their original question and b.) make them ask what love is. However now, in the infinite wisdom of a first year student *cough cough*, I have a much more appropriate response:

Son/daughter: “Daddy, where do babies come from?”
Me: “Shut your mouth and just be glad that you’re alive and healthy.”

After covering some basic embryology and genetics, I’ve realized how precious a healthy life really is. During the development of gametes (sperm and eggs), there are so many mutations which can be passed on and manifest themselves as Huntington’s disease, Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy, Prader-Willi syndrome, achondroplasia, and so on. Each has a characteristic pattern of inheritance, but the fact that you know how a disease is passed on won’t stop it from actually happening.

Now let’s assume that the gametes involved in fertilization are perfectly healthy. There’s still a long list of developmental disorders (many of which are fatal) which can result from improper segmentation, lack of neural tube closure, malrotation of the gut tube, etc. And by “etc”, I mean that there’s way too many to possibly write in this blog post. Development is a series of steps in which a fetus must fight against the odds of malformation constantly.

As I continue to learn more about the origins of organ systems, I’ll continue to learn more about how many different ways they could have developed incorrectly. As my embryology professor, a pediatric surgeon, likes to preface her PowerPoints – “What could go wrong?” In reality, a LOT could go wrong, but thanks to surgeons like her, many of these infants can grow up to live normal lives.

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