A time-lapse video produced for the BBC series "Inside the Human Body" shows the stages in the development of the facial features of a fetus. The time-lapse, based on scans of the developing embryo, uses 3-D models of the developing face.
The video shows how movable parts of the fetus's face grow independently and then fit together like a jigsaw puzzle into a human face in the first three months following conception. BBC's Michael Mosley, explained: "The three main sections of the puzzle meet in the middle of your top lip, creating the groove that is your philtrum."
According to the New Scientist, "Virtual sculptures were created at different stages, then combined by mapping hundreds of points to corresponding dots on the other models." David Barker, graphics researcher, said: "It was a nightmare for structures like the nose and palate, which didn’t exist for most of the animation."
According to Daily Mail, the animation reveals that the embryonic developmental process is an intricate one involving growth of mobile plates of tissue that fuse at the philtrum. Depending on the genetic make-up of the individual, the philtrum can be long, short, deep or shallow. The New Scientist explains that the three main sections that fuse to form the human face rotate into place, meeting at the philtrum with such precise timing that delays can result in the sections failing to fuse, leading to a cleft lip or palate.
According to NY Daily News, the philtrum is a focal point on the face indicative of congenital disorders. A smooth philtrum could be indicative of other disorders like fetal alcohol syndrome.
ABC News reports Mosley said: "This whole amazing process – the bits coming together to produce a recognisable human face – happens in the womb between two and three months. If it doesn’t happen then, it never will."
The New Scientist reports that Inside the Human Body will be airing in the UK and Ireland on 16 July at 9 pm as part of a month of science programmes on Eden TV.