BSc Biomedical Sciences with a Modern Language

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Developmental Biology RSM

Course unit fact file
Unit code BIOL20972
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


This Research Skills Module is designed to develop your experimental design, report writing and practical skills. You will be introduced to developmental biology research techniques during four laboratory-based projects. You will use various model organisms such as Arabidopsis, zebrafish, Xenopus and fruit fly and learn different techniques such as DNA sequence analysis and immunohistochemistry.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Molecular Biology BIOL10221 Pre-Requisite Recommended
Genes, Evolution and Development BIOL10521 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Principles of Developmental Biology BIOL21172 Co-Requisite Compulsory
Organismal Genetics BIOL21371 Co-Requisite Recommended
BIOL20972 Pre-requisites are BIOL10521 & BIOL21172

This is a compulsory unit for Developmental Biology honours students but may also be selected by Biology and Biomedical Sciences honours students.


To build on students’ previous practical experience and to introduce new concepts. To provide training in the design of experiments, the analysis and interpretation of data, the presentation of results and the maintenance of a professional lab book. To help students develop relevant practical skills and provide experimental contexts that illustrate some of the theoretical models and concepts that will be taught in BIOL21371 (Organismal Genetics) and BIOL21172 (Principles of Developmental Biology).

Learning outcomes

Students will develop skills in experimental design, time management within the laboratory, team working, the analysis and interpretation of data, and the presentation of data. They will also have a working knowledge of several commonly used Developmental Biology techniques. Students will appreciate the need for control experiments and for careful experimental manipulation in order to obtain reliable results.


Module 1. Dr Kathy Hentges
Genetic linkage and mutation detection in human disease. During this module, students will identify a human disease gene based on linkage analysis of affected families. Upon identification, students will analyse gene sequence data to determine the nature of the mutation. Techniques will include: pedigree and genotype analysis; DNA sequence analysis; bioinformatics methods for mutation detection and functional profiling.

Module 2. Prof Andreas Prokop
The fruit fly Drosophila is a highly efficient and cost-effective model organism with which to explore fundamental mechanisms of biology, which then often apply to higher organisms - to a degree that mouse genes can sometimes be interchanged with those of flies; 10 Nobel laureates awarded  in "Physiology or Medicine" for work in fruit flies. During this week, you will experience how this works by understanding the idea behind a genetic screen, how to analyse mutant fly embryos and how the findings apply to higher organisms. Learned skills include immuno-histochemistry, strategies for microscopical analysis and applied classical genetics.

Module 3 Dr Paul Kasher and Dr Shane Herbert
Using zebrafish as a developmental model of human disease. During this practical, students will perform chemical-induction of spontaneous blood vessel rupture in the brains of zebrafish embryos, to model aspects of human haemorrhagic stroke. To investigate a genetic basis of disease, students will perform genotype:phenotype correlation analysis in zebrafish embryos derived from a genetically modified line that has a mutation in a gene associated with neurovascular instability and juvenile stroke in humans. Techniques will include: zebrafish embryo manipulation and drug administration, microscopy, histology, DNA extraction, PCR and restriction fragment polymorphism analysis.

Module 4. Dr Karel Dorey and Dr Sarah Woolner
Role of growth factor signalling in mesoderm induction. In this practical, Xenopus embryos will be used to assess the role of TGFβ and FGF signalling in mesoderm induction. We will analyse the effect of inhibiting TGFβ and FGF signalling using small chemical inhibitors in early Xenopus embryos and activating the TGFβ pathway in naïve animal cap cells with the ActivinβB ligand. The effects of the different treatments will be analysed at the phenotypical level and by monitoring the expression of genes specific for different tissue types by RT PCR. Techniques will include in vitro fertilisation, raising Xenopus tadpoles, the ex vivo culture of embryonic tissues, RNA extraction and RT-PCR.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
You will develop skills in experimental design to plan experiments and work together to tackle problems. Design will be modified based on the results to try to achieve desired outcomes.
Group/team working
You will work in teams of 2 or 3 to perform experiments. Teamwork will be required to work to a deadline.
You will develop skills in experimental design to plan experiments and work together to tackle problems. Design will be modified based on the results to try to achieve desired outcomes.
You will develop skills in experimental design to plan experiments and work together to tackle problems.
Project management
You will develop skills in experimental design to plan experiments and work together to tackle problems.
Problem solving
You will develop skills in experimental design to plan experiments and work together to tackle problems.
You will develop skills in experimental design to plan experiments and work together to tackle problems.
Written communication
You will collate data and describe in powerpoint. You will use statistical analysis to describe data succinctly.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 75%
Oral assessment/presentation 25%

Written assessments:       

  • Design a figure based on your data and write a figure legend for module 1, 2 and 3 (60% of the unit mark)        
  • Exercise to do during the practical for module 1 and 4 (10% of unit mark)

Online assessments:

  • ePBL quiz (module 2) 10% of unit mark.

Oral assessment:

  • An oral presentation (module 4) of 10 minutes to present the results of your experiments (20% of unit mark).


The RSM assessment will be split 25% for each module. In each module assessment will consist of a combination of coursework and individual and group exercises taken during class. Current coursework consists of a figure with accompanying legend for module 1,2 and 3 with additional short answer questions and ePBL assessments. For module 4, the assessment will consist of a presentation, and in-class exercise.

RSM Attendance guidelines

Students are expected to attend all scheduled RSM sessions on time (N.B. Health and safety information will be delivered at the start of practical sessions, and students who are not present at the start may be asked to leave the lab). Students who arrive late will be marked as absent for that session. Failure to attend a session (an unauthorised absence) will result in a 10% (i.e. 10 mark) penalty being applied to the overall RSM mark (i.e. a student obtaining a mark of 65% overall will instead receive a mark of 55%). .Further absences will result in further penalties (i.e. 2 absences = a penalty of 20% (as described above)).

Feedback methods

During the practical sessions, there will be many opportunities for you to get feedback from staff or demonstrators on your technical performance. The short answer questions or exercises in the practical manual are there to test your understanding and you should get feedback from staff or demonstrators on your answers. You will get feedback on your overall performance in the form of the final mark for the unit and should get feedback on the short reports for each module.

Recommended reading

  • Wolpert L Principles of Development (3rd edition) Oxford University Press
  • Griffiths A J F, Miller J H, Suzuki D T, Lewontin R C and Gelbart W M An Introduction to Genetic Analysis (7th edition) 2000 Freeman
  • Fixsen W D Solutions manual for An Introduction to Genetic Analysis (7th edition) 2000 W. H. Freeman
  • Griffiths A J F, Gelbart W M, Miller J H and Lewontin R C Modern Genetic Analysis 1999 W. H. Freeman
  • Ralph Greenspan Fly Pushing : The Theory and Practice of Drosophila Genetics 1997 Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Practical classes & workshops 72
Independent study hours
Independent study 28

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Karel Dorey Unit coordinator

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