Developmental Biology

Module code: BS2025

Module co-ordinator: Dr Jonathan McDearmid

This module will provide you with a thorough grounding in animal and plant developmental biology with particular emphasis on the role of cell-cell interactions. You will study the genetic regulation of cell behaviour as the main determinant of development, and the molecular mechanisms by which cells interact and are recruited to achieve complex morphogenesis. We will also look at the significant role of post-embryonic regulation and environmental signals in the control of plant development.

Practical sessions in this module will include the study of early development of zebrafish and chickens, the study of tetratogens on early animal development, embryo development in Brassica, and photomorphogenic mutants in Arabidopsis. You will learn how to manipulate and observe animal embryos, record the timing of early events in development and recognise when development has been adversely affected. We will also isolate and examine stereotypical stages in Brassica embryogenesis. You will learn how to examine phenotypic characteristics of developmental mutants and make predictions about their genotypes.

Topics covered

  • Basic concepts: from fertilisation to growth, cell determination and gene expression, positional information.
  • Epigenetics: epigenetic regulation of gene expression; mechanisms of DNA methylation and histone modification.
  • Animal model systems: fertilisation, embryonic development, development of model invertebrates and vertebrates.
  • Plant model systems: principles of plant development, embryogenesis: from zygote to seed, genetic and molecular approaches.
  • Fundamental role of regulation of gene expression in cell differentiation
  • Developmental processes in animal model systems and the importance of cell-cell interactions
  • Interplay between development and evolution
  • Life cycle and particular advantages of using Arabidopsis thaliana as a model species for studying plant development
  • Embryonic polarity systems and the importance of cell lineage and position in embryonic pattern formation
  • Genetic approaches to the study of plant development and molecular techniques used to localise gene expression
  • How analysis of plant morphogenesis can be used to manipulate the growth and development of crop plants




  • Practical report (15%)
  • Presentation (10%)
  • Essay (5%)
  • Exam, 3 hours (70%)