How do complex, multicellular organisms develop from a fertilized egg in reproducible fashion? Genetic and molecular approaches carried out in model organisms, most notably the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster and the soilworm C. elegans, have deciphered the basic paradigms of this complicated set of events. The course will present the basic tools used in developmental genetic research, the pioneering studies that uncovered the major signaling pathways operating during development, alongside current conceptual and technological approaches to these issues, and their application to biomedical research. We will explore fundamental questions in the field, such as how embryonic polarity is established and how morphogen gradients are formed and interpreted. The analysis of stem cells in their natural niches will be presented. We will examine the links between cell biology and developmental signaling, and the pathways used to execute morphogenesis once developmental decisions have been made, providing a whole-organism perspective to biological problems.
The course consists of a three-hour session each week (which will include a discussion of homework exercises). Grades are based on a final written exam in which full access to course materials is allowed. A basic undergraduate background in genetics and cell biology is assumed. However, the course has been successfully taken by students who did not have this background (e.g. Chemistry or Bioinformatics students).