Developmental Biology


Course Objective

The development of a single cell, the fertilized egg cell, into a
complex organism with all its tissue and organs in the right place is
one of the most intriguing phenomena in biology. Whereas disciplines
like molecular and cell biology aim to unravel the molecular mechanisms
of a single cell, developmental biology aims to understand how such
mechanisms make cells work together in a coherent way to form an entire
organism. The overall aim of this course is to provide insight into
these molecular mechanisms, such as the regulation of the expression of
master genes and cell-to-cell signaling pathways underlying plant and
animal development.

Final attainment levels:
- the student has a basic understanding of morphological events
that take place during embryogenesis in animals
- the student can describe and distinguish key-concepts in
development, such as (i) pattern formation (ii) determination of cell
fate, (ii) differentiation and link that to general phenomena known in
molecular biology, such as gene regulation, epigenetic phenomena, cell-
signalling etc.
- The student can describe the (dis)similarities in the development of
animals as different as fruitflies and vertebrates, in terms of
morphological events and underlying molecular mechanisms.
- The student can explain the paradox that development of organisms
with very different morphologies is governed by deeply conserved genes,
and understands the molecular evidence for the current ideas.
- The student acquires experience in the critical analysis and
discussion of experimental data as presented in research papers and the
presentation of such data for a large(r) audience.

Course Content

The first two weeks will be shared with the MSc course Developmental
Neurobiology of the Vertebrate Brain. The first week consists of
lectures on general developmental biology. For the second week one of
paths can be chosen: (1) Development of the brain or (2) Plant
development. The first part of the course finishes with a written "mid
term exam"
In the third and the fourth week the focus shift to specific "hot
topics" and research. Three or four masterclasses will be given by
invited speakers/researchers that will give an overview of their own
research field and discuss their (recent) experimental results.
Furthermore, students (couples) will choose 2-3 recent research papers
on a hot topic of their interest that they will study in depth to
prepare for a small masterclass at the end of week 4 in which they
outline the current status of the chosen subject, and present (and
critically evaluate) the latest experimental data. Students can freely
choose papers on plant or animal development. This ensures that everyone
can follow his/her own preference for animal or plant biology and that,
in the end, everyone gets a broad view on what is is currently going on
in (plant or animal) developmental biology.

Specific issues that we will address in the first two weeks are:
- General key-concepts in development, such as pattern formation,
segmentation, determination of cell fate, with emphasis on the
experimental evidence on which our current knowledge is based
- Research strategies that are widely used in developmental
- Molecular mechanisms that govern the development of embryos in
insects (Drosophila) and vertebrates
- Elementary aspects of stem cell biology and "reprogramming" of
differentiated cells into stems cells
- Evolutionary aspects: how can it be that deeply conserved genes
govern the development of organisms with entirely different bodyplans,
like fruitflies and vertebrates, or weed plants and trees.
- Late events in embryogenesis, the formation of organs
(organogenesis). This will be entirely focused on development of the
brain (for students taking the path Brain development)
- Early (embryogenesis) and late events (development of flowers and
leaves) in the development of plants. What are similarities and
differences with the development of animals?

In the last two weeks we will focus in depth on research concerning
particular "topics that are currently "hot" in developmental biology.
Subjects that will be covered by invited speakers are:
- Development and functioning of stem cells and stem cell niches in
the intestine.
- Role of Hox genes in the segmentation and later development of
- Molecular mechanisms that govern pattern formation in plants
Subjects that wiil be covered in the masterclasses given by student
depends on the choices that are made during the course and are,
therefore, not entirely predictable beforehand. Some of the subjects
that will almost certainly be covered are:
- Reprogramming of differentiated cells into stems cells and
dangers/possibilities for use of such cells in therapy
- Intercellular movement of proteins like transcription factors,
which were hitherto always believed to act only in the cells where they
are synthesized

Teaching Methods

Lectures and masterclasses (~ 58 hrs).
Self study (~ 55 hrs)

Method of Assessment

Written exam (50%)
Oral presentations and (written) abstract (40%)
Active participation to discussions during masterclasses (10%)

Entry Requirements

Basic knowledge (level 1/2) of molecular biology in particular
mechanisms underlying regulation of gene expression, cell-signalling.
General affection for molecular biology is recommended


There is no specific handbook. You might find it useful to consult, on
occasion, a handbook (any) to refresh your memory on some basic cellular
processes, like gene regulation, signaling and so on, if that is
Handouts, incl. PowerPoint files of lectures, pdf files of relevant
review and research papers will be provided via the Canvas site.

Target Audience

Master students: Biomolecular Sciences, Biology, Biomedical Sciences

General Information

Course Code AM_470613
Credits 6 EC
Period P2
Course Level 500
Language of Tuition English
Faculty Faculty of Science
Course Coordinator prof. dr. R.E. Koes
Examiner prof. dr. R.E. Koes
Teaching Staff prof. dr. R.E. Koes

Practical Information

You need to register for this course yourself

Last-minute registration is available for this course.

Teaching Methods Seminar, Lecture, Study Group
Target audiences

This course is also available as: