Paper - Some effects of the Röntgen rays on the development of embryos

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Gilman PR. and Baetjer FH. Some effects of the Röntgen rays on the development of embryos. (1904) Amer. Jour. Physiol. 10: 222-224.

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This historic 1904 paper by Gilman and Baetjer is one of the earliest descriptions of the teratogenic effects of radiation on the developing embryo. Röntgen radiation refers to X-radiation (X-ray), Ambystoma (salamander eggs) and chicken eggs were used in this study.

See also: Bagg HJ. Disturbances in mammalian development produced by radium emanation. (1922) Amer. J Anat. 30(1): 134-161.

Modern Notes: Abnormal Development - Radiation | Chicken Development

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Pages where the terms "Historic" (textbooks, papers, people, recommendations) appear on this site, and sections within pages where this disclaimer appears, indicate that the content and scientific understanding are specific to the time of publication. This means that while some scientific descriptions are still accurate, the terminology and interpretation of the developmental mechanisms reflect the understanding at the time of original publication and those of the preceding periods, these terms, interpretations and recommendations may not reflect our current scientific understanding.     (More? Embryology History | Historic Embryology Papers)

Some Effects of the Röntgen Rays on the Development of Embryos

By P. K. Gilman And F. H. Baetjer.

From the Anatomical Laboratory of the John Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md. (1904)

The great interest aroused by the discovery of the marked alterations produced in the human skin by exposure to Röntgen rays has given rise to a number of experiments on animals. This work, however, has been confined in the main to a study of the lesions produced in the skin of adult mammals[1] and has not been much extended to the lower animals and to embryos. F. Schaudinn[2] found that various protozoa were differently affected by exposure to the Röntgen rays. Those having a protoplasm very rich in water seemed to be the ones most greatly affected. Recently Bohn[3] has shown that radium causes deformities and arrest of development in frog embryos.

In the following paper a brief account is given of the gross effects noted in certain embryos exposed to the X-rays. A study of the microscopical alterations produced in the tissues is at present under way.

Eggs of Amblystoma were subjected to the influence of Röntgen rays for fifteen minutes each day for varying periods. The eggs, just covered with water, were exposed in a shallow glass dish, and were disturbed as little as possible in transferring them to and from their tank. Both exposed and control eggs were subjected to the same conditions of temperature, daylight, and water-supply.

The first effect of the rays noted, on comparing exposed with normal eggs, was an accelerated development for a short period.

This continued up to the tenth day in the case of some of the embryos, though after the third or fourth day the development was seen to be along abnormal lines. About the tenth or eleventh day the normal embryos caught up in size with the exposed ones, and from that time on continued to enlarge, while the abnormal ones assumed grotesque shapes, and either grew no larger or became smaller. The experiments were continued up to the twenty-second day.

Animals exposed daily to the rays for four or five times, and then allowed to develop undisturbed, showed a marked tendency to recover and develop normally; but in less than half of these was complete restitution of form effected. Animals exposed daily for twenty-twoor three days died soon after the last exposure. Up to approximately the twelfth day the exposed animals were noticeably larger than the control. After this period practically no increase in size was noted. Although the shapes assumed by the exposed embryos were not exactly the same, the following deformities were noted in practically all of a large series, ranging from specimens of the tenth to those of the twentieth day: (I) no external gills developed on any of the embryos; (2) the body surface appeared roughened and wrinkled in places, especially about the head portions, which were slender, elongated, and more pointed than the normal heads, and showed poorly developed eyes and distorted mouth parts; (3) the bodies of the exposed animals all showed hemispherical bulgings at the base of the neck on the ventral surface, over which the body-wall appeared tense and of a lighter color; (4) the membraneous portion of the tail was but slightly developed.

Hens’ eggs were employed in another series of experiments. The same care in regard to control material was observed. The eggs were exposed each day for ten minutes, and the following points observed.

The exposed eggs showed accelerated development during the first thirty-six hours, after which the eggs of this series were retarded by the rays. Specimens were preserved each day for histological study.

The chicks showed the following features on exposure for four days, the abnormalities becoming more marked on longer exposure to the rays: (1) there were deformities of the occipital region, accompanied by hemorrhagic areas, which often extended along the dorsal line; (2) the development of the eyes was retarded in many of the specimens; (3) the membranes were generally quite firmly adherent to the embryo, so that it was diflicult or impossible to remove them; (4) the limbs assumed grotesque positions, sticking out at unnatural angles to the body. In older specimens, where feathers had begun to appear, these were abnormally distributed in patches. The bodies of the exposed chicks were distorted, and many of them found hanging in abnormal positions within the shells.

In the experiments above described, the embryos were exposed to very powerful rays. The apparatus used was a twenty centimetre coil with an interrupter of the electrolytic type and a ten-inch coil with a mechanical interrupter. Two styles of tubes were used, — a Queen, self—regulating with heavy anode, and a Heinze with a medium heavy anode. The vacuum of the tubes was so arranged that a light of medium soft quality was obtained; i.e., when the hand was held before a fluroscope the flesh was very pale, and the bones were a dark gray, standing out in a sharp contrast to the flesh.[4]

With such a light a hen’s egg held eighteen inches from the tube casts a gray shadow upon the fluroscope. By means of the self-regulating tubes, the desired degree of penetration was readily maintained.

Sufiicient current was sent through to keep the anode at a bright red heat. The eggs were placed six inches from the anode, and were arranged each day so that each egg received the same amount of light.

Dr. Bardeen, at whose suggestion the work was undertaken, informs us that in some preliminary exposures of hens’ eggs to the rays, he found only those eggs affected which were exposed to rays of considerable intensity. In a series of experiments carried on at the Zoological Station at Naples, he was unable to obtain positive effects on the eggs of certain sea-urchins and teleosts, when they were exposed to rays of moderate intensity. It is, therefore, a matter of considerable importance to determine the intensity of the rays, and the length and frequency of exposure necessary to bring about marked alterations in animal tissues.


  1. A good summary of the literature on this subject may be found in the recent work of PUSEY and CALDWELL: The Practical Application of the Röntgen Rays in Therapeutics and Diagnosis,” Philadelphia, 1903.
  2. SCHAUDINN, F .: Archiv fiir die gesammte Physiologic, 1899, lxxvii, p. 29.
  3. BOHN: Comptes rendus de l’academie des sciences, 1903, cxxxvi.
  4. Our thanks are due to Dr. Henry M. Hard for the use of the X-Ray apparatus belonging to the johns Hopkins Hospital.

Cite this page: Hill, M.A. (2020, September 28) Embryology Paper - Some effects of the Röntgen rays on the development of embryos. Retrieved from

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