BSc Biomedical Sciences with Entrepreneurship

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Advanced Developmental Biology (E)

Course unit fact file
Unit code BIOL31642
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


Developmental Biology is a key discipline for the biomedical sciences. On this unit you will gain an understanding of the many biomedically relevant concepts born out of this discipline and their important contributions to modern medical applications. For further information see:



Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Principles of Developmental Biology BIOL21172 Pre-Requisite Recommended


The aim of this course is to understand concepts and mechanisms of Developmental Biology, comparing and contrasting them between limbs, head structures and internal organs. Through this, students will learn about the fundamental processes leading to developmental disorders and disease, and the crucial roles that Developmental Biology has played and continues to play in generating key concepts for medical application including stem cells, signalling networks, cancer or wound healing.



Learning outcomes

Students will gain basic knowledge and understanding of:

•   how a single fertilised egg cell develops gradually into a complex, three-dimensional, multicellular organism composed of highly organised tissues, such as bone, cartilage, skin, muscles, nervous system, blood and blood vessels, internal organs or head structures.

•   how fundamental molecular and cellular mechanisms (e.g. differential gene expression, cytoskeletal dynamics or endocytic trafficking), cell communication (e.g. signalling, adhesion) and developmental concepts (asymmetric cell division, pattern formation, cell migration, branching) contribute during these processes.

•   how these different mechanisms integrate at the level of whole tissues, organs and organisms, and how they are functionally adapted in distinct developmental contexts.

•   how studying these mechanisms provides important understanding of developmental human disorders, such as mental retardation, spina bifida or malformations, but also processes underlying neurodegeneration, cancer or wound healing.



Developmental Biology is a key discipline in the biomedical sciences with unparalleled impact on medical applications and concepts (see: Developmental Biology asks fundamental, conceptual questions at the level of organisms, tissues or organs and operates therefore at the level at which diseases become manifest. Consequently, Developmental Biology has to integrate knowledge and research strategies across the different levels of understanding, which makes it an intellectually rewarding discipline that has given us concepts including cell signalling, cell division, stem cells, cell adhesion, cell migration - all being fundamental to the understanding of diseases and conditions such as cancer, wound healing, birth defects, developmental brain disorders as well as regeneration, ageing or neurodegeneration.

In this lecture we developed a new way to teach Developmental Biology by posing fundamental questions about body development and then explain the current knowledge that can deliver satisfactory answers. In this way, the course is an ideal combination of classical embryology and modern Developmental Biology. The first half of this lecture series will ask the fundamental question of how limbs are formed, and will introduce to the underlying patterning mechanisms and fundamental developmental processes of all tissues involved. We will then ask about additional developmental strategies required to make specialisations of the head or inner organs and, eventually, ask whether these developmental mechanisms are re-used during tissue regeneration.

•   Part 1: How to make a limb? An integrated view: How does a limb bud know where to form? How are the axes of the limb determined? How does the limb acquire its appropriate size? How do skeletal muscles, skeleton, blood cells and vessels, nerves and functional synaptic contacts and skin appendages form?

•   Part 2: How to make a head? How do head specific features, such as head skeleton, ears and teeth develop? How does this compare to principles learned from limb development?

•   Part 3: How to make internal organs? How do tubular organs, such as lung and kidney, or glandular organs, such as pancreas, mammary and salivary glands, form? Does the development of internal organs differ from peripheral structures?

•   Part 4: How can mechanisms of development be re-employed? A brief overview of the biology of regeneration.



Employability skills

Analytical skills
Recognising commonalities and differences of molecular and cellular mechanism in different contexts
Modern trends in Biology and their various uses and applications; creative thinking about biological problems in ways different from any current text books
Problem solving
Addressing course materials from different angles, as practiced in e-assessments and the essay outline exercise
Understanding of research strategies and the appreciation of molecular and cellular mechanisms at the level of tissues and organisms - immediately relevant for patho-mechanisms underpinning disease
Written communication
Principles of essay writing
Applying concepts of developmental biology to human embryology or regenerative medicine

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 5%
Written exam 90%
Written assignment (inc essay) 5%

Essay-based written examination (90%); a written essay outline answering a typical exam question (5%); 3 multiple-choice/answer e-assessments (5%).

Feedback methods

  • Writing of an essay outline on which detailed feedback is given (5% of course mark)
  • 3 multiple choice/answer e-assessments after lecture 6, 12 and 18, as an incentive to re-visit lecture notes during the course and providing detailed feedback on course contents (5% to the final course mark)

Recommended reading

  • Gilbert, SF and Barrish MJ (2020) Developmental Biology (12th edition). Sinauer.
  • Wolpert, L and Tickle, C (2019) Principles of Developmental Biology (6th edition). Oxford University Press.
  • Martinez Arias A and Stewart A (2002) Molecular Principles of Animal Development. Oxford University Press.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 18
Independent study hours
Independent study 80

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Andreas Prokop Unit coordinator

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