Int. J. Dev. Biol. 51: 1 - 26 (2007)
A history of normal plates, tables and stages in vertebrate embryology
Developmental biology is today unimaginable without the normal stages that define standard divisions of development. This history of normal stages, and the related normal plates and normal tables, shows how these standards have shaped and been shaped by disciplinary change in vertebrate embryology. The article highlights the Normal Plates of the Development of the Vertebrates edited by the German anatomist Franz Keibel (16 volumes, 1897–1938). These were a major response to problems in the relations between ontogeny and phylogeny that amounted in practical terms to a crisis in staging embryos, not just between, but (for some) also within species. Keibel's design adapted a plate by Wilhelm His and tables by Albert Oppel in order to go beyond the already controversial comparative plates of the Darwinist propagandist Ernst Haeckel. The project responded to local pressures, including intense concern with individual variation, but recruited internationally and mapped an embryological empire. Though theoretically inconclusive, the plates became standard laboratory tools and forged a network within which the Institut International d'Embryologie (today the International Society of Developmental Biologists) was founded in 1911. After World War I, experimentalists, led by Ross Harrison and Viktor Hamburger, and human embryologists, especially George Streeter at the Carnegie Department of Embryology, transformed Keibel's complex, bulky tomes to suit their own contrasting demands. In developmental biology after World War II, normal stages—reduced to a few journal pages—helped domesticate model organisms. Staging systems had emerged from discussions that questioned the very possibility of assigning an embryo to a stage. The historical issues resonate today as developmental biologists work to improve and extend stage series, to make results from different laboratories easier to compare and to take individual variation into account.
history of embryology, Franz Keibel (18611929), normal plates, normal stages, standards