Embryology is the branch of biology that studies the prenatal development of gametes (sex cells), fertilization, and development of embryos and fetuses. Additionally, embryology encompasses the study of congenital disorders that occur before birth, known as teratology.
Embryology has a long history. Aristotle proposed the currently accepted theory of epigenesis, that organisms develop from seed or egg in a sequence of steps.
The alternative theory, preformationism, that organisms develop from pre-existing miniature versions of themselves, however held sway until the 18th century. Modern embryology developed from the work of von Baer, though accurate observations had been made in Italy by anatomists such as Aldrovandi and Leonardo da Vinci in the Renaissance.