MSci Genetics / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Principles of Developmental Biology

Course unit fact file
Unit code BIOL21172
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


Developmental biology deals with the various steps necessary for the correct and complete formation of the body of a living organism. You will be introduced to the mechanisms used to produce different cell and tissue types and ensure these cells develop in the correct position and identity. You will learn, using examples such as the eye and limbs, that similar developmental mechanisms are employed by diverse organisms. The role that developmental biology plays in medicine in stem cell therapy, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine will also be considered.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Genes, Evolution and Development BIOL10521 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
BIOL21172 Pre- & Co-requisites are BIOL10521


To provide a general introduction to the mechanisms used in both plants and animals to produce and position, during embryonic development, the many different cell types required to create a functional adult organism.

Learning outcomes

  • To understand the basic mechanisms used to produce different cell types and to arrange cells in three dimensions during development.
  • To understand how these basic mechanisms are linked to establish the axes and segments of the embryo.
  • To appreciate that very similar mechanisms are used in very diverse organisms.
  • To understand the role developmental biology plays in medicine.


A conceptual tool kit for development. These lectures will introduce the basic concepts and terms of developmental biology. In addition the general mechanisms by which cells adopt different fates will be described.

Maternal control of development and establishment of the major embryonic axes. In most organisms maternal information is deposited in the egg which is essential for the establishment of anterior-posterior (head-tail), dorsal-ventral (front-back) and left-right axes of the embryo during the very earliest stages of development. These lectures will cover the different strategies used in plants and animals during this process.

Segmentation, pattern formation and tissue identity. These lectures will cover the mechanisms by which different regions of the organism become specified. Examples include how segmentation occurs along the anterior-posterior axis in flies and vertebrates, and how organ identity and patterning is controlled in plants.

Conservation of developmental mechanisms. Rather surprisingly, the development of many organs is highly conserved between very diverse species including plants. For example, specification of the eye is very similar in flies and humans. These lectures will provide specific examples of these conserved mechanisms.

Application of developmental biology to modern medicine. Finally the importance of developmental biology in novel therapies in medicine will be discussed, covering stem cell therapy, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.

e-Learning Activity

The unit will have a series of five scenario-based PBL exercises that simulate developmental biology experiments and cover important concepts from the course.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
ePBL modules are data handling problems.
Project management
There is a succession of deadlines for completing the ePBL modules.
Problem solving
ePBL modules are data handling problems.
Reading lists of primary literature are given.
Written communication
Written exam contains short and long answer questions.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 15%
Written exam 85%

Written examination containing two essay questions (85%, answering 1 out of 4 short essay questions and 1 out of 5 long essay questions), completion of five eLearning modules (5%, 5 modules, 1% for each module) and one online ePBL examination (10%, 20 MCQ questions).

Feedback methods

Feedback is given throughout the semester by the completion of 5 ePBL exercises that simulate developmental biology experiments, and a discussion board. Within the ePBL exercises, there are quiz questions with feedback for incorrect answers. Also there are five formative quizzes.

Recommended reading

  • Gilbert, SF (2020) Developmental Biology (12th edition). Sinauer (Recommended)
  • Wolpert, L & Tickle, C (2019) Principles of Developmental Biology (6th edition). Oxford University Press (Recommended)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 1.3
Lectures 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 76.7

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Minsung Kim Unit coordinator

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