Open Questions: Developmental Biology
Prerequisites: Molecular biology and genetics
See also: Molecular evolution --
Gene expression and regulation --
Stem cells --
Some of the most astounding phenomena known to science occur so commonly
that we've all experienced them and take them for granted. Yet until very
recently, they were totally mysterious, and even now present a large number
of important open questions.
Developmental biology is all about the astonishing fact that complex
multicellular organism consisting of as many as hundreds of trillions
of specialized cells are able to develop from one single fertilized
Certainly, we now know, all the information necessary to specify every
type of cell is present in the identical DNA contained in each cell.
But the question is: what is the program that directs the use of this
DNA information, and how does it work?
Here are some more specific questions about the process:
- What triggers cell differentiation?
- How do cells specialize?
- Can cell specialization be reversed?
Virtual Library: Developmental Biology
- Part of the
WWW Virtual Library.
Open Directory Project: Developmental Biology
- Categorized and annotated links. A version of this
list is at
Google, with entries sorted in "page rank" order. May also be
Yahoo Developmental Biology Links
- Annotated list of links.
Galaxy: Developmental Biology
- Categorized site directory. Entries usually include
Sites with general resources
The Virtual Embryo
- An outstanding site containing many resources for students
and researchers in developmental biology. Most of the content is
in the part called
Dynamic Development, which is entitled
"A Modular Resource to Facilitate Learning in Developmental Biology".
Some of the best features
learning resources, and the
research resources. But there's a lot more than that. This is the
kind of site that every field of science should be so fortunate to
possess. The site was originally developed by Leon Browder, co-author
of a popular textbook entitled Developmental Biology.
The Visible Embryo
- The main feature of the site is a visual presentation of the
human embryo and information about it at each of the first 23 weeks
after conception and every second week thereafter. Other features
external links, a
and a chat system. Some other features are available to paid
- Site provided by Scott Gilbert to supplement his popular
textbook, Developmental Biology (not the same one as
Contains a wealth of
technical information. Includes external links that are keyed
to chapters in his book.
Biology Project: Developmental Biology
- Part of the
University of Arizona Biology Project. There are external
links and a tutorial on
- A portal to relevant Nature Publishing Group resouces in the
field of developmental biology.
Society for Developmental Biology
- Contains news & information, educational resources,
Surveys, overviews, tutorials
Category: Developmental biology
- Topic category from
- Article from
Evolutionary developmental biology,
Developmental Biology Tutorial
- An excellent tutorial that should be one of the first destinations
for anyone who wants to understand what developmental biology is all
about. Part of the
Virtual Embryo site.
Evolutionary Developmental Biology
- A ScienceWeek
"symposium" consisting of excerpts and summaries of
articles from various sources.
- Complete online textbook, by Scott F. Gilbert.
Part of the
Developmental Biology Tutorial
- Good tutotrial, but limited to narrow focus on human development,
located at the
Biology Online site.
Embryo Images: Normal & Abnormal Mammalian Animal Development
- Presents a tutorial on mammalian embryology using scanning
electron microscope images.
The Multi-dimensional Human Embryo
- Provides a three-dimensional image reference of the human
embryo based on magnetic resonance imaging. Site also has
external links and references to additional information.
Developmental Biology Cinema
- Short videos on topics in developmental biology.
The Interactive Fly
- Interactive tutorial on the developmental biology of the
What Controls Nerve Growth?
article by Anil Ananthaswamy on nerve cell development and
Two become one
- September 20, 2001 article from Nature concerning
the increasing interaction between developmental biology and
Of Goethe, genomes and how babies are made
- February 10, 2000 article from Nature concerning
evolutionary developmental biology.
- Telltale Heart
Science News, July 7, 2001, pp. 13-15
- The heart is the first organ to develop in the embryos of
vertebrates. The genes that control this process are being
- How the Body Tells Left from Right
Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte
Scientific American, June 1999, pp. 46-51
- All vertebrates are asymmetric in the way certain internal
organs like the heart are situated. This development is controlled
by genes which are expressed on only one side of an embryo.
- How Limbs Develop
Robert D. Riddle; Clifford J. Tabin
Scientific American, February 1999, pp. 74-79
- A protein named "Sonic hedgehog" has been found to be the
chemical signal that establishes the anterior-posterior axis of an
embryonic limb. This finding has implications for studies of
cancer and birth defects.
- Gradients that Organize Embryo Development
Scientific American, August 1996, pp. 54-61
- Studies of fruit fly embryos have shown some of the basic
mechanisms of early embryo development. Concentration gradients of
certain proteins acting as DNA transcription factors seem to play
the main role.
- The Genetics of Flower Development
Elliot M. Meyerowtiz
Scientific American, November 1994, pp. 56-65
- Flowers consist of four types of organs -- sepals, petals,
stamens, and carpals. It turns out that all are just modifications
of leaves, produced by different patterns of gene expression. How
the position of a cell within an organism affects gene expression
is just beginning to be understood.
- The Molecular Architects of Body Design
William McGinnis; Michael Kuziora
Scientific American, January 1994, pp. 55-66
- Very similar genetic mechanisms -- HOM/Hox genes -- govern the
development of all animal body plans. Such highly conserved
genetic mechanisms must have evolved in the first animals, more
than 600 million years ago.
- Sean B. Carroll – Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New
Science of Evo Devo
W. W. Norton & Company, 2005
- There have been a number of books on evo devo for scientists
or readers with a good background in biology. This is the first
that is truly for a general audience, and given Carroll's
stature in the field, it can't fail to be recommended to a
wide audience. In the first part, developmental biology is
explained as the way animals of all types develop from embryos
to adults. Evolution is tackled in the second part, as the way
that biological development came to be the way we find it.
- Adam S. Wilkins – The Evolution of Developmental
Sinauer Associates, 2002
- Wilkins gives us an introductory text book for evo devo –
"the place where developmental biology and evolutionary biology
intersect". It is technical, but not at all beyond the ability
of a science-oriented reader to enjoy. The first part covers
the foundations, and explains how the history of development
can be inferred from fossil evidence. The second part presents
case studies in pathway evolution. Conundrums and open questions
in the subject are examined in the third part.
- Eric H. Davidson -- Genomic Regulatory Systems: Development
Academic Press, 2001
- Davidson's career has been focused on understanding how
the development of an organism is encoded in its DNA and how,
as a result, animal evolution unfolded. The book gives a
thorough and rigorous account of what he has learned. It
assumes some understanding of the molecular biology of gene
expression without going into detail. One is stimulated to
wonder about the evolutionary steps that led the process of
gene expression to work the way it does.
- Sean B. Carroll; Jennifer K. Grenier; Scott D. Weatherbee --
From DNA to Diversity: Molecular Genetics and the Evolution of Animal
Blackwell Science, 2001
- In this work we have a masterful synthesis of molecular genetics,
developmental biology, and evolutionary theory. This 3-fold synthesis
is one of the most important features of contemporary biology. The
presentation is technical but enlivened with numerous colorful
diagrams and illustrations. Important topics such as the Hox
family of homeobox-containing genes are well explained.
- John Tyler Bonner -- First Signals: The Evolution of Multicellular
Princeton University Press, 2000
- The author adopts an evolutionary perspective on developmental
biology by focusing on key initial steps in the evolution of
multicellular organisms, through an examination of signaling
between cells in slime molds. The book is brief, and the
presentation is sophisticated but not overly technical.
- Enrico Coen -- The Art of Genes: How Organisms Make
Oxford University Press, 1999
- This is a very good introduction to developmental biology,
and it makes no assumption that the reader has any background in
biology. It's also nearly the only recent such introduction, and
would rate even higher if the painting metaphor weren't pressed
quite so hard. Nevertheless, it makes very clear how development
takes place, not as a set of explicit instructions, but rather as
an implicit "program" of sequential gene expression, guided by
proteins produced earlier in the sequence and distributed in a
3-dimensional pattern throughout the developing embryo.
- Walter J. Gehring -- Master Control Genes in Development
and Evolution: The Homeobox Story
Yale University Press, 1998
- Evolutionary theory, molecular biology, and developmental
biology have come together in a fascinating synthesis which
exposes how the mechanisms that control gene expression have
evolved, and how the traces of this evolution remain in the
way that the sequence of gene expression governs the development
of individual organisms. Gehring, whose laboratory discovered
the "homeobox genes" which play a key role in this synthesis,
provides an excellent account of his research, full of details
and real meat.
- Wallace Arthur -- The Origin of Animal Body Plans: A Study in
Evolutionary Developmental Biology
Cambridge University Press, 1997
- A synthesis of molecular biology, developmental biology, and
evolutionary theory is just coming about. Arthur's book is an
excellent survey of this emerging synthesis. Although a good
deal of technical terminlology is used, the material is mostly
accessible to general readers.
- John Gerhart; Marc Kirschner &nadash; Cells, Embryos, and
Blackwell Science, 1997
- This weighty textbook is unmistakably intended for serious
readers who want to learn the details of how molecular biology,
cellular biology, and evolutionary biology interact.
The main issue it confronts is to understand how members of
a given species can undergo nonlethal heritable variations
upon which evolution can act.
- Rudolf A. Raff -- The Shape of Life: Genes, Development, and
the Evolution of Animal Form
University of Chicago Press, 1996
- Raff offers a good, technical presentation of evolutionary
developmental biology for specialists, but without excluding
dedicated general readers. The emphasis is on the fossil record
and systematics, with little treatment of molecular aspects.
- Lewis Wolpert -- The Triumph of the Embryo
Oxford University Press, 1992
- How, in detail, an embryo can develop from a single cell
to a complex organism with hundreds of types of cells is one
of the central questions of biology. Wolpert is a master of the
field of developmental biology, and presents a beautiful account
of the subject in this classic book for general readers.
Copyright © 2002 by Charles Daney, All Rights Reserved