Barnes, M. Elizabeth
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Early in the process of development, vertebrate embryos develop a fold on the neural plate where the neural and epidermal ectoderms meet, called the neural crest. The neural crest produces neural crest cells (NCCs), which become multiple different cell types and contribute to tissues and organs as an embryo develops. A few of the organs and tissues include peripheral and enteric (gastrointestinal) neurons and glia, pigment cells, cartilage and bone of the cranium and face, and smooth muscle. The diversity of NCCs that the neural crest produces has led researchers to propose the neural crest as a fourth germ layer, or one of the primary cellular structures in early embryos from which all adult tissues and organs arise. Furthermore, evolutionary biologists study the neural crest because it is a novel shared evolutionary character (synapomorphy) of all vertebrates.