Module BSX-3148:
Developmental Biology

Module Facts

Run by School of Natural Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Dr John Mulley

Overall aims and purpose

This module will provide an overview of patterns and processes of embryonic development, largely through the lens of comparative embryology and evolutionary-development biology (Evo-Devo). Laboratory practicals will enable students to gain hands-on experience with key techniques used to study embryonic development in model species, as well as to develop or refine general molecular biology skills. Students will gain knowledge and understanding of how a single fertilised egg cell develops gradually into a complex, three-dimensional, multicellular organism composed of highly organised tissues, and how fundamental molecular and cellular mechanisms (e.g. differential gene expression, cell-cell communication, or cytoskeletal dynamics) contribute to this process. Students will develop an appreciation of how these different mechanisms integrate at the level of whole tissues, organs and organisms, and how they are functionally adapted in distinct developmental contexts. Finally, we will demonstrate how studying these mechanisms provides important understanding of human developmental disorders and disease.

Course content

Some of the topics covered in this module may include:

  • Reproductive systems and gametogenesis
  • Comparative development of vertebrate and invertebrate nervous systems
  • Homeobox genes
  • Development and disease
  • Stem cells, metamorphosis and regeneration

The module will allow students to apply several key developmental biology techniques to a number of classical model systems, including fruitflies, zebrafish and chickens. Students will have the opportunity to develop or refine important practical molecular biology skills and will also be exposed to relevant primary literature thorough the module.

Assessment Criteria


-D (40%>)

The student should be able to express a basic conceptual knowledge of at least some part of the core material presented in the module, and be able to appreciate the complexity of embryonic development in the various model systems. Provides little to no examples, or interprets them incorrectly. Written work presents at least a superficial account of all major steps.


-B (50%>)

The student should be able to express a thorough conceptual knowledge of much of the core material presented in the module, and have a competent and detailed ability to critically evaluate the principles and processes of embryonic development. Some detailed examples are provided, and are interpreted correctly. Some evidence of further reading and ability to integrate material from the full range of the lecture and practical content. Written work shows some evidence of problem solving and presents sufficient detail that most of the experiments/steps could be repeated using this alone.


-A (70%>)

The student should demonstrate comprehensive conceptual and factual knowledge, critical understanding of theory, evidence of extra reading of primary literature and the ability to integrate this extra knowledge in a relevant manner. Extensive use of examples, including those not presented in class. Written work shows clear evidence of additional reading or research, and records steps taken in solving identified problems or trouble-shooting techniques. Experiments are recorded in a highly detailed and logical manner and could be used to repeat every step with no additional information.

Learning outcomes

  1. Learn and develop practical skills in embryology and molecular biology

  2. Demonstrate detailed knowledge and broad conceptual understanding of animal development, from fertilisation, through to axis formation, organogenesis, and regeneration

  3. Gain an appreciation of the diversity of processes involved in animal development, and the ways in which these have been repurposed during animal evolution

  4. Demonstrate a detailed understanding of the key models and techniques used to study animal development, and critically appraise the relevant ethical and legal issues associated with their use

  5. Demonstrate an ability to apply background knowledge and independent research in order to interpret experimental results and to solve problems, and to understand and critique relevant primary literature

  6. Gain an appreciation of the links between development and human and animal disease

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
REPORT Practical report

Practical report on the laboratory experiments

EXAM Examination

2 hour end-of-module exam, comprising two essays


Teaching and Learning Strategy

Private study

Private study - background reading and directed study, assessment preparation

Practical classes and workshops

Practical classes covering a range of development biology techniques in model species


Lectures, workshops and feedback sessions, likely around 2 hours per week


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Numeracy - Proficiency in using numbers at appropriate levels of accuracy
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team

Subject specific skills

  • PS3 Problem-solving skills, relating to qualitative and quantitative information
  • PS4 Numeracy and mathematical skills, including handling data, algebra, functions, trigonometry, calculus, vectors and complex numbers, alongside error analysis, order-of-magnitude estimations, systematic use of scientific units and different types of data presentation
  • PS5 Information location and retrieval skills, in relation to primary and secondary information sources, and the ability to assess the quality of information accessed
  • PS7 Basic interpersonal skills, relating to the ability to interact with other people and to engage in teamworking
  • PS8 Time management and organisational skills, as evidenced by the ability to plan and implement efficient and effective ways of working
  • PS11 Problem-solving skills including the demonstration of self-direction, initiative and originality
  • PS6 Information technology skills which support the location, management, processing, analysis and presentation of scientific information
  • SK9 Read and engage with scientific literature
  • SK10. Development of project-specific experimental skills.
  • SK11. Reading and engaging with scientific literature.
  • SK13. Making oral presentations and writing reports, including critical evaluation.
  • SK16. Recording of data and their critical analysis.
  • SK18. Advanced studies in areas of specialism, such as the use ofpeer-reviewed scientific literature.

Bio5.3 i. An appreciation of the complexity and diversity of life processes through the study of organisms, their molecular, cellular and physiological processes, their genetics and evolution, and the interrelationships between them and their environment ii. The ability to read and use appropriate literature with a full and critical understanding, while addressing such questions as content, context, aims, objectives, quality of information, and its interpretation and application iii. The capacity to give a clear and accurate account of a subject, marshal arguments in a sophisticated way and engage in debate and dialogue both with specialists and non-specialists, using appropriate scientific language iv. Critical and analytical skills including a recognition that statements should be tested and that evidence is subject to assessment and critical evaluation v. The ability to employ a variety of methods of study in investigating, recording and analysing material vi. The ability to think independently, set tasks and solve problems.

Bio5.5 i. Recognise and apply subject-specific theories, paradigms, concepts or principles (for example the relationship between genes and proteins, or the nature of essential nutrients in microbes, cells, plants and animals) ii. Analyse, synthesise and summarise information critically, including published research or reports iii. Obtain and integrate several lines of subject-specific evidence to formulate and test hypotheses iv. Apply subject knowledge and understanding to address familiar and unfamiliar problems v. Recognise the moral and ethical issues of investigations and appreciate the need for ethical standards and professional codes of conduct.

Bio5.6 i. Demonstrate competence and progressive development in the basic and core experimental skills appropriate to the programme of study ii. Design, plan, conduct and report on investigations, which may involve primary or secondary data (for example from a survey database) iii. Obtain, record, collate and analyse data using appropriate techniques in the field and/or laboratory, working individually or in a group, as is most appropriate for the subject under study iv. Undertake field and/or laboratory investigations of living systems in a responsible, safe and ethical manner. v. Comply with health and safety policies, Good Laboratory Practice, and Control of Substances Hazardous to Health assessments recognise and explain the importance of quality control and quality assurance vi. Recognise and explain the need for procedures for obtaining informed consent and appreciate the underlying ethical issues, including respect for the rights of access, for example, in field work or in order to map the genes of a community, family or group of plants or animals, including humans vii. Demonstrate an understanding of the ethical and other issues relating to animal welfare. viii. Explain and justify the impact of investigations on the environment, on the organisms or subjects under investigation, and on other stakeholders.

Bio5.7 i. Use and interpret a variety of sources of information: textual, numerical, verbal, graphical ii. Carry out sample selection; record and analyse data in the field and/or the laboratory; ensure validity, accuracy, calibration, precision, replicability and highlight uncertainty and possible bias during collection iii. Prepare, process, interpret and present data, using appropriate qualitative and quantitative techniques, statistical programmes, spreadsheets and programmes for presenting data visually iv. Solve problems by the most appropriate method.


Talis Reading list

Reading list

Reading list will be provided, e-versions of books/articles used as far as possible.

Pre- and Co-requisite Modules

Courses including this module

Optional in courses: