Zoology 4970/5343

Developmental Genetics, Spring 2012

General Outline and Course Syllabus

Left Photo: Rudi Turner, Indiana Univ. Center Photo: Special Issue of the International Journal of Developmental Biology on the Developmental Genetics of Drosophila, 42:305-309. See Carroll. S.B. (1998). Right Photo: Kim, et. al. (1997) Nature, 388:304-308.

Instructor: David S. Durica

Office: Richards Hall, Room 300A

Office Hours: Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 11:30-12:30, or by appointment.

Telephone: 325-1528 (office/lab)


There is no required text for this course. Most readings will be taken from recent reviews and articles in the primary literature and xeroxing costs can be drawn from your University Bursar's account.  There are, however, several texts that are recommended:

Slack, J.M.W. 2006. Essential Developmental Biology, 2nd edition, Blackwell Publishing, , Malden, MA ISBN 13:978-1-4051-2216-0

Gilbert, S.F. 2010. Developmental Biology, 9th edition.  Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, MA. ISBN 978-0-87893-384-6/ in looseleaf, ISBN 978-0-87893-558-1.

Carroll, S.B., Grenier, J.K., Weatherbee, S.D. 2005. From DNA to Diversity: Molecular Genetics and the Evolution of Animal Design. 2nd edition Blackwell Science, Malden, MA. ISBN 0-632-04511-6.

Ptashne, M. and Gann, A. 2002. Genes and Signals. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, Cold Spring Harbor, NY. ISBN 0-87969-631-1.

Also, Ptashne's classic book on the genetic control mechanisms involved in the developmental switch between lytic and lysogenic cycles in lambda phage, "A Genetic Switch", is available as an ebook for cheap.


There are a number of valuable resources on developmental biology that are available on the World Wide Web (WWW). We will be accessing these resources over the course of the semester. Although just a few sites are listed here, the hyperlinks from these locations link to just about everywhere.  These sites can be accessed from the course web site:

Developmental Biology Website: this site contains supplemental information beyond the scope of Gilbert's introductory text.  In the words of the author, "This is really interesting; its too bad I can't put it into the textbook."

The Virtual Embryo: link to a web site maintained by an author of a prominent developmental biology textbook, Leon Browder. This site contains tutorials on a variety of subjects and links to other sites.

The Virtual Library-Developmental Biology: links to web sites maintained by research laboratories working in the field of developmental biology.

Cell and Molecular Biology Online: links to electronic journals, educational resources, methods and protocols, and more...focussing on cell, molecular biology and genetics.

The World-Wide Web Virtual Library: Biosciences: A link at Harvard University which will take you to numerous sites relevant to the biological sciences.

Genes and Signals Webpage.  The web site for the Ptashne/Gann text.  Contains book figures and references to supplementary reading, with PubMed links.

The Genetics Webpage: The Zoo 3333 web site; links to genetics, genomics, and molecular biology, plus news and commentary.


 A very important part of your grade will be your classroom participation.   You will be assigned research or review articles on specific topics during the course of the semester which you will be asked to critically evaluate; students will rotate responsibilities for leading in-class discussions on these papers. Your preparation of these critical analyses, and your participation in discussions led by others, will be as important as your test averages.  There will be two examinations; a "midterm" examination and an examination given at the end of the semester. Both examinations will be equally weighted.

The midterm examination is tentatively scheduled for 15 March.

The end-of-semester examination is scheduled for Friday, 11 May at 1:30 PM. Click here for final exam schedule.

If any student has a disability or needs special assistance, please inform me as soon as possible, so that any accommodations that are necessary can be arranged with the minimum amount of inconvenience.

Each student should be aware of the University regulations in regard to cheating on class examinations or other work. Any instance of cheating will be dealt with seriously, under the guidelines set out by the University. I sincerely trust that this will not be necessary.

General Overview of the Course:

A description of the topics I would like to cover is summarized below. They might not necessarily be covered in the order listed, but I hope to cover and integrate these major subject headings over the course of the semester.

I. The application of experimental embryology to the study of development.

Classical embryological studies; "mosaic" vs. "regulative" development; cytoplasmic determinants; concept of induction; early model systems and their experimental advantages: marine invertebrates, ascidians, amphibians, chick.

II. Overview of molecular biology techniques.

Nucleic acid hybridization analyses; construction of recombinant expression vectors; hybrid genes; immunological localization techniques; genetic knockout/knockdown techniques, mosaic analyses.

III. Assessing differential gene activity during development.

The application of molecular techniques to evaluate changes in the temporal and spatial expression of genes during development. Description of current model systems and their experimental advantages: C. elegans, Drosophila, mouse.

IV. The "consensus" eukaryotic gene.

The eukaryotic genome; overview of eukaryotic gene structure and function; gene duplication and divergence; multigene families; ancient gene reconstruction. The relationship between DNA and protein interaction and an introduction into epigenetics.

V. Transcription initiation as a means of developmental regulation.

DNA/protein interactions; promoter sequences; transcription factors involved in RNA polymerase binding; "housekeeping"; tissue and stage-specific enhancers; trans-acting factors; change in DNA/chromatin architecture related to gene expression; insulator sequences, heterochromatin.

VI. Current studies on transcriptional control mechanisms.

The development of model systems to study transcriptional regulation; eukaryotic viruses (SV40); cell lineage specification; commitment and terminal differentiation during development.

VII. Regulation at a post-transcriptional level.

RNA interference; alternative RNA splicing; self-splicing RNAs; evolutionary implications.

VIII. Translational control.

Stored maternal mRNAs during embryogenesis; masked mRNAs; responses to specific environmental signals (heat shock genes); post-translational modifications; intracellular sorting and the establishment of compartments; RNA interference revisited..

IX. Transitions in cell behavior; cell growth, division, and senescence.

The cell cycle; mitotic induction; control of cell proliferation; growth factors; remodeling; apoptosis and cell death.  When things go wrong...carcinogenesis as a consequence of gene mutation.

X. Pattern formation revisited.

Mechanisms for establishing positional information; maternal effect mutations and classical models; concept of developmental gradients; morphogens.

XI. Genes involved in determining patterns.

Homeotic genes; modern model systems (Drosophila, C. elegans, mouse) and the use of transgenic animals to evaluate gene function; extrapolation to other developmental systems.

Accessory Materials:

The Powerpoint lecture slides will be posted on Desire to Learn (D2L)..

All readings will be .pdf files that will be located on the D2L course page.   To open them, you will need an Adobe Acrobat Reader: