ectoderm, layer of cells that covers the surface of an animal embryo after the process of gastrulation has occurred. This outer layer, together with the endoderm, or inner layer, is present in all early embryos. In the development of animals of the phyla Porifera, Ctenophora, and Cnidaria, these two primary layers give rise to all the tissues and organs of the animals, a process known as diploblastic development. In higher animals, such as those of the phyla Echinodermata and Chordata, a third, middle layer, the mesoderm, is formed between the ectoderm and endoderm during gastrulation, and the process is termed triploblastic development. In most embryos, differentiation of ectodermal tissue gives rise to epidermis and its specialized structures (scales, feathers, nails, and hair); some exocrine glands (sweat and sebaceous glands); some endocrine glands (the pineal body and the pituitary gland); the nervous system; and the organs of special sense (ear and eye). In animals of some phyla, such as the Mollusca and Annelida, the fate of particular cells of the embryo is determined in the earliest stages of the fertilized egg and may even be fixed at or before fertilization.
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