Evolutionary Developmental Biology


Course Objective

- Understand the basic principle of evolution and natural selection,
source and origin of natural variation.
- Understand how body axes are being formed and which genetic factors
are implicated in this process
- Knowledge on Hox gene evolution and its impact on the evolution of
body plans.
- Understand how transcriptional regulatory evolution is associated with
anatomical diversity of body plans
- Understand and apply different techniques of phylogenetic
- Knowledge on the evolutionary context of disease and antibiotic
- Critically analyse and communicate a scientific publication on
evolutionary developmental biology to a broader audience.
- Improve presentation skills for peers.

Course Content

Current biomedical sciences increasingly appreciates and incorporates
evolutionary theory, because it is essential to understand the impact of
genetic variation on treatment of diseases and development of antibiotic
resistance. This course consists of 3 modules, whereby evolutionary
developmental biology will be placed in a biomedical context at
different levels of biological organization from morphology down to the
molecular mechanisms. The emphasis is on model organisms important for
biomedical research. We will give more insight into the evolution of
body plans and organs and finally the genetic mechanisms that underly
evolutionary developmental biology in humans and biomedical

Module 1, Week 1-3: We provide knowledge on the evolution of
hominins, the ancestors of modern humans from an anatomical and paleo
biological perspective.
Moreover, the relevance and importance of the most commonly used model
organisms in biomedical research
(Drosophila, C. elegans, the mouse, chicken and claw frog ) will be
introduced and discussed. We emphasize on their relevance in the context
of developmental biology. Their evolutionary position is discussed as
well as the importance of it model for biomedical research. We will
discuss genetics of the formation of body axes on the basis of these
models and how this can be extrapolated to genetics of axes formation in
Choosing the right partner influences successful conception and
embryonic development. During partner selection body odor appears to
have play an important role in vertebrate evolution, due to maintaining
an optimal
immune system. we discuss whether this still impacts partner
choice in humans. Therefore, we organize a practical exercise to study
choice in relation to an optimal immune system with all students to
deepen our knowledge on this subject. Students will genotype their
adaptive immune system. Based on these data partner choice panels of
male students will be formed. Female students will subsequently judge
pleasantness and attractiveness of shirts from male students worn during
one night sleep.
Presentation is an important aspect of scientific research. During a
working group students will be trained to give short presentations (5
minutes) with specific attention to attitude, pronunciation, speech rate
and contact with audience. The content of the presentation is linked to
the lecture material of this course.

Module 1 will be assessed by a digital partial exam using multiple

Module 2, week 4-5: Phylogenetic analysis plays an essential role
evolutionary biology. Therefore, lectures as well as a working group and
a computer exercise will be organized to provide and apply knowledge on
phylogenetic reconstruction. The working group phylogeny will emphasize
the principle of maximum parsimony, while a computer exercise on
forensic evolutionary analysis will train students in understanding and
applying unweighted pair group clustering using arithmetic means
(UPGMA). We will also deepen are knowledge on the evolution of body
plans and the genetic principles driving evolution of body plans.
Special attention will be given to the Hox gene complex. Elaborate
training in the complexity in genetic terms associated with Hox gene-
and body plan evolution will be facilitated by a mind mapping working
group. Finally, we’ll discuss the impact and evolutionary consequences
of hybridization between homo species for present humans.

Week 6; module 2 will be assessed by digital partial exam 2 using
choice questions.

Week 6-7: The evolution of the brain will be discussed in great detail.
In addition, we provide an evolutionary perspective on medicine. The
emergence of antibiotic resistance and adaptation of pathogenic viruses
that disrupt normal development will be given special attention. Also,
we asked the question ‘What makes us human?’ In this context will
highlight the evolution human accelerated regions, which are DNA
sequences in the human genome that show extreme high evolutionary change
only in the human lineage. The evolution of some main organ structures
will be discussed with special emphasis on the heart, lungs and genital
structure. Also, the extent of neutral evolution in human populations
will be discussed.
A journal club is organized to provide more training and experience in
presentation skills. The students choose a scientific article on an
evolutionary developmental biology topic. During a workgroup each
article is discussed in sub groups in great detail. There is plenty of
opportunity to ask questions about pros and cons each scientific
publication. Powerpoint slides need to be uploaded by each subgroup into
CANVAS before the start of the journal club. Subsequently, the journal
club is organized in which all student groups present their studied
paper. The assessment is performed based on a standardized rubrics
scoring form. All rubric scores will be compared among different
presentations to come to objective decision.

Week 8: module 3 will be assessed by digital partial exam 3 using
choice questions.

Teaching Methods

- Lectures 30 hours
- Working groups 15 hours
- Practical 18 hours: Partner choice experiment: genotyping,
phenotyping. Interpretation of results and synthesizing knowledge on
partner choice and its impact on variation in the adaptive immune
- Training presentation skills: 5 minute short presentations as well as
journal club presentation in sub groups, including feedback on academic
English by the Academic Language Program.
- Phylogenetic reconstruction using two different algorithms. 8 hours.

Method of Assessment

Three partial exams: digital examination of multiple choice assignments.
Around 50 assignments per partial exam. The mean grade of all 3 exams
makes up for 75% of the final grade. Knowledge from lectures, practical
and working groups will be assessed. Mean grade of the exams needs to be
5.5 or higher in order to pass the course.
Presentation Journal club will be graded on the basis of a standard
rubric form. This grade represents 25% of the final grade.

Entry Requirements

High level of motivation. Eager to learn more about biology and
biomedical sciences in a broader evolutionary context.


Obligatory: Evolutionary Development of Humans. Nico M. van Straalen &
Dick Roelofs. Amsterdam University Press. 2019
Manuals for practical, working groups and computer exercise.

Target Audience

Compulsory course for first year Biomedical Sciences’ students.

Additional Information

Lab coat is obligatory during practicals.

General Information

Course Code AB_1141
Credits 6 EC
Period P4
Course Level 100
Language of Tuition English
Faculty Faculty of Science
Course Coordinator dr. ir. T.F.M. Roelofs
Examiner dr. ir. T.F.M. Roelofs
Teaching Staff dr. ir. T.F.M. Roelofs
prof. dr. S. Spijker
prof. dr. N.M. van Straalen
dr. M.C. Schippers

Practical Information

You need to register for this course yourself

Last-minute registration is available for this course.

Teaching Methods Study Group*, Seminar, Lecture, Practical*, Computer lab*, Excursion*

*You cannot select a group yourself for this teaching method, you will be placed in a group.

Target audiences

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