R. Bras. Zootec.. 01/Nov/2016;45(11):709-28.

Cardio-respiratory development in bird embryos: new insights from a venerable animal model

Warren W. Burggren, Josele Flores Santin, Maria Rojas Antich

DOI: 10.1590/S1806-92902016001100010


The avian embryo is a time-honored animal model for understanding vertebrate development. A key area of extensive study using bird embryos centers on developmental phenotypic plasticity of the cardio-respiratory system and how its normal development can be affected by abiotic factors such as temperature and oxygen availability. Through the investigation of the plasticity of development, we gain a better understanding of both the regulation of the developmental process and the embryo’s capacity for self-repair. Additionally, experiments with abiotic and biotic stressors during development have helped delineate not just critical windows for avian cardio-respiratory development, but the general characteristics (e.g., timing and dose-dependence) of critical windows in all developing vertebrates. Avian embryos are useful in exploring fetal programming, in which early developmental experiences have implications (usually negative) later in life. The ability to experimentally manipulate the avian embryo without the interference of maternal behavior or physiology makes it particularly useful in future studies of fetal programming. The bird embryo is also a key participant in studies of transgenerational epigenetics, whether by egg provisioning or effects on the germline that are transmitted to the F1 generation (or beyond). Finally, the avian embryo is heavily exploited in toxicology, in which both toxicological testing of potential consumer products as well as the consequences of exposure to anthropogenic pollutants are routinely carried out in the avian embryo. The avian embryo thus proves useful on numerous experimental fronts as an animal model that is concurrently both of adequate complexity and sufficient simplicity for probing vertebrate cardio-respiratory development.

Cardio-respiratory development in bird embryos: new insights from a venerable animal model