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Pregnancy and the miracle of birth is a precious, fascinating scientific study. Studying the various stages and trimesters in a pregnancy, embryologists watch embryos grow new features day by day. Similarly, watching plants sprout from seedlings to tiny buds or the cocoon stages before butterflies bloom are pretty incredible processes as all life forms begin as some form of embryo.

Embryology, the scientific study of embryonic development, deals with the period from fertilization until the hatching or birth of an animal or the germination of a plant. However, since a young animal may undergo metamorphosis or may remain wholly dependent on the mother for some time after birth, the exact limit of the time during which an organism is an embryo has not generally been well defined. This has heated up debate amongst pro-choice and pro-life activists, nevertheless, embryologists are trying to define the term embryo and make it clearer.

Embryologists study the formation, early growth and development of living organisms. Clinical embryologists work with human embryos, as opposed to non-clinical embryologists who work with animal or plant embryos. Embroyologists also study abnormalities in embryos to help understand why and how this happens. There are many different ways that developmental abnormalities can occur in the fetus however the two major types are congenital (inherited or genetic) and maternal-derived abnormalities.

Congenital abnormalities usually involve only small DNA mutations affecting genes, with two exceptions: major chromosomal abnormalities which result in either Down syndrome or Edwards syndrome. Maternal derived abnormalities are usually related to the mother's lifestyle, environment and nutrition. For example, abnormalities can be related to excess alcohol on neural development, called fetal alcohol syndrome, viral infections at a critical stage of development, inadequate dietary folate intake, and the effects of prescription drugs. A major disaster in history is of women who were prescribed Thalidomide to combat morning sickness, which prevented the proper growth of the fetus resulting in birth defects in thousands of children.

Highly trained in advanced laboratory techniques, embryologists prepare sperm and egg samples and provide the necessary conditions for fertilization and embryo development in vitro. They are also certified to facilitate the growth, development, maturation, and preservation of human embryos. Since many couples are unable to have children due to fertility problems or same-sex couples wishing to have a baby through the process of in vitro fertilization, embryologists have devised scientific processes to help these struggling couples reproduce.
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  Interests and Skills  
Embryologists need an innate interest in natural phenomena and scientific research, and an inquiring mind. They should have good manual dexterity for transferring micro-organisms from one culture medium to another without contaminating samples, and the ability to pay close attention to details. Most have a strong aptitude and background in chemistry, biochemistry and genetics. Embryologists are well organized, enjoy working in the laboratory with equipment and performing tasks which require precision.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Conduct research into the structure, function, biotechnology and genetics of embryos
  • Conduct experiments to isolate and make cultures of specific embryos under controlled conditions
  • Analyze the stages of the reproduction cycle in humans, plants and animals
  • Perform tests on women and plants during their pregnancy to better understand the birthing and embryonic process
  • Conduct molecular studies and experiments into genetic expression, gene manipulation and recombinant DNA technology
  • Observe, identify and classify embryos
  • Isolate embryos that show signs of abnormalities and find ways to combat these problems to help pregnant women
  • May counsel women about the conceive
  • May supervise technologists and technicians and other scientists
  • Embryologists mainly work in laboratories and on computers. The pressure of having to meet project deadlines can be stressful and will often result in longer hours. Generally, embryologists put in long workweeks. Some may deal directly with patients, and act in a counseling fashion. Preventive inoculations will also help to protect medical embryologists from the risk of disease.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Embryologists are employed in both laboratory and field setting for governments, hospitals, universities, fertility clinics, embryonic laboratories and related clinics, pharmaceutical companies, diagnostic laboratories and biotechnology firms.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Long term advancement will certainly depend on the education level of the embryologist. Those with master's degrees may work as professionals in laboratory settings, performing experiments. Embryologists with PhDs may conduct and lead individual and group research projects and teach in universities, manage clinical diagnostic embryology laboratories or fertility clinics or advance to senior scientific appointments in government or industry.

Other advancement opportunities for embryologists depends on the size and nature of the employing organization and the qualifications of the employee. They can move into related biology fields such as biochemistry, genetics, ecology, virology or biochemical engineering. They can also become clinical technicians in health care facilities, quality control officers in the food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries, or bioremediation specialists.

  Educational Paths  
The minimum education requirement for embryologist's is a four-year Bachelor of Science degree in embryology, microbiology or biochemistry with some background in genetics. Those who have a bachelor's degree are qualified to work as laboratory assistants or technicians. A master's or PhD is usually required for senior research positions. Those with PhDs may continue their training as post-doctoral fellows.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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