A three-dimensional, large-strain finite element formulation for the simulation of morphogenetic behaviors in embryonic tissues is presented. It is used to investigate aspects of invagination, neural tube morphogenesis, contraction wave propagation and mechanical pattern formation. The simulations show that the spacing of patterns and the shapes produced by certain morphogenetic movements in epithelial sheets depend only slightly on the properties of the materials which underlie these sheets. Simulations of neural tube closure show that numerous, experimentally-observed features can be produced by contraction of apical microfilament bundles alone. That certain systems of forces are mechanically equivalent and that certain patterns of deformations are equivalent set practical limits on what can be inferred from the simulations.

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