Metazoan embryos develop from a single cell into three-dimensional structured organisms while groups of genetically identical cells attain specialized identities. Cells of the developing embryo both create and accurately interpret morphogen gradients to determine their positions and make specific decisions in response. Here, we first cover intellectual roots of morphogen and positional information concepts. Focusing on animal embryos, we then provide a review of current understanding on how morphogen gradients are established and how their spans are controlled. Lastly, we cover how gradients evolve in time and space during development, and how they encode information to control patterning. In sum, we provide a list of patterning principles for morphogen gradients and review recent advances in quantitative methodologies elucidating information provided by morphogens.
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