An historical perspective on the pioneering experiments of John Saunders

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John Saunders was a highly skilled embryologist who pioneered the study of limb development. His studies on chick embryos provided the fundamental framework for understanding how vertebrate limbs develop. This framework inspired generations of scientists and formed the bridge from experimental embryology to molecular mechanisms. Saunders investigated how feathers become organized into tracts in the skin of the chick wing and also identified regions of programmed cell death. He discovered that a region of thickened ectoderm that rims the chick wing bud - the apical ectodermal ridge - is required for outgrowth and the laying down of structures along the proximo-distal axis (long axis) of the wing, identified the zone of polarizing activity (ZPA; polarizing region) that controls development across the anteroposterior axis ("thumb to little finger "axis) and contributed to uncovering the importance of the ectoderm in development of structures along the dorso-ventral axis ( "back of hand to palm" axis). This review looks in depth at some of his original papers and traces how he made the crucial findings about how limbs develop, considering these findings both in the context of contemporary knowledge at the time and also in terms of their immediate impact on the field.

Original languageEnglish
JournalDevelopmental Biology
Early online date15 Jun 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Jun 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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