The Developmental Biology Program provides a focused course of study for students interested in the development of organisms, in cell and molecular biology, and an interface between development and evolution. Multicellular organisms undergo physical changes throughout their lifetime. All of them start off as a single cell, develop into an embryo, grow into an adult, sexually mature, renew and remodel tissues, and age. In other words, developmental changes occur throughout life. The aim of developmental biology is to understand the nature of the many changes that organisms undergo. For example, some fundamental questions asked by developmental biologists are: how is the complexity that is visible in the many different cell types, tissues and organs, and the organization and shape of our body generated? What makes us develop precisely five fingers on a hand, makes them look different from each other, defines their order and determines the mirror-symmetry between the right and left hand? What makes one egg develop into a mouse and another into a human? At the heart of these and other fundamental problems in developmental biology lie the interactions between genes and their products, and their complex and changing intra- and extraorganismal environments. It is a particularly exciting time for developmental biology as the sequencing of genomes ranging from humans to plants is revealing a surprising conservation of developmental genes and pathways.
Model organisms, such as yeast, worms, flies, mice, frogs, fish, and plants are routinely used to study developmental processes. Research ranges from the functional analysis of individual genes/transcripts/proteins to whole genomes/ transcriptomes/proteomes/metabolomes, and involves the experimental study of cell and tissue structure, cell dynamics and communication. Developmental biology is a broad discipline, strongly intertwined with cell and molecular biology, genetics, biochemistry, bioinformatics, and evolutionary biology. It has important medical relevance as many genetic diseases, such as cancer, are caused by defects in genes that regulate development.
The Developmental Biology program begins in first and second year with a core of courses providing a foundation in biology. The Department of Cell and Systems Biology offers a series of third and fourth year courses that broadly cover the various aspects of developmental biology. They include advanced lecture, seminar, laboratory, and research project courses – the latter providing students with an opportunity to make their own discoveries. Supplementary courses are offered by several other departments, such as Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Medical Genetics, Biochemistry, Anatomy, Immunology, and Physiology. The diversity of courses offers an opportunity to integrate developmental principles across a wide range of organisms.