BSc Zoology

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Comparative Developmental Biol (L)

Course unit fact file
Unit code BIOL31451
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by School of Biological Sciences
Available as a free choice unit? No


Developmental biology explains how the single cell formed at fertilisation forms an embryo and then a fully formed adult organism. This unit outlines how genes function to direct development and how their evolution has resulted in variation. You will learn how studies of a particular tissue or organism can provide insight into development and disease in other animals including humans.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Principles of Developmental Biology BIOL21172 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
BIOL21172 is a pre-requisite of BIOL31451


To explain how genes function is regulated to direct specific developmental processes and how the evolution of gene function and regulation has resulted in variation in the form of living organisms. This course provides a foundation for understanding how a common set of gene regulatory principles provide insight into both development and disease in all organisms.

Learning outcomes

  • Understand the molecules and pathways that establish the anterior/posterior and dorsal/ventral axis in animals
  • Gain familiarity with the components of major signalling pathways and transcriptional networks deployed during development
  • Appreciate how organismal development is controlled and evolves through molecular changes resulting in variation in the expression and function of gene networks
  • Learn how understanding developmental processes and gene functions within a particular tissue or organism can provide insight into function in many other tissues and other organisms
  • Gain an understanding of how comparative developmental biology in combination with genetic and genomic technologies allow the use of model and non-model organisms to study human disease and healing
  • To develop the capacity to evaluate and critically discuss primary literature in the context of comparative developmental biology


The course will be split into 5 blocks that introduce and discuss in depth key examples of comparative developmental biology. This will be followed by a seminar style discussion of the issue in the context of classic or current primary papers.

  • Conservation, function and evolution of developmental signalling pathways
  • Variation in the establishment of the dorsal ventral axis in animals.
  • The role of Hox genes, noncoding RNAs, and miRNAs in anterior/posterior axis patterning.
  • Mechanisms in the development and evolution of flowers, leaves and shoots.
  • Examination of regulative, mosaic, and stochastic processes in development.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Development of presentation and opportunity for novel synthesis derived from multiple primary literature sources
Group/team working
Gain fluency in a small group seminar style discussion environment analysing current primary research
Development of skills to integrate and synthesize information from diverse research sources to address novel questions and develop novel hypotheses
Opportunity for leadership during presentation of papers and directing group discussion
Project management
Organising small group presentation
Oral communication
Seminar style course will provide significant opportunity for developing oral communication skills
Problem solving
Understanding and analysing methods and results in primary literature provide significant opportunity to practice and develop problem solving skills.
Analysis of primary research literature is a fundamental component of developing appropriate research questions
Written communication
Development of writing skills focused on synthesising information from multiple sources to address essay questions.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 90%
Written assignment (inc essay) 10%

2.5 hour examination (90%): answer 2 essay questions out of 5.

Mock Essay Question (10%).

Feedback methods

Seminar style lectures following each topic will provide an opportunity for formative feedback to the students regarding the depth and breadth of their understanding of the topic. Students will answer and receive feedback on a mock essay question similar to the final assessment.

Recommended reading

  • Carroll, S.B. et al (2005) From DNA to Diversity: Molecular Genetics & the Evolution of Animal Design (2nd edition). Blackwell
  • Gerhart, J. et al (1997) Cells, Embryos and Evolution. Blackwell Science
  • Gilbert, SF (2010) Developmental Biology (9th edition). Sinauer
  • Wolpert, L (2007) Principles of Developmental Biology (3rd edition). Oxford University Press

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 78

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Matthew Ronshaugen Unit coordinator

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