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Biology 434

BIOL 434
Evolutionary Developmental Biology

Catalog Entry

BIOL 434
Evolutionary Developmental Biology
Credit Hours: (3)

Prerequisite: BIOL 231 or permission of instructor
Three hours lecture.  

An introduction to the basic concepts and ongoing research in the field of evolutionary developmental biology, or “evo-devo.” This course addresses basic questions of evolutionary developmental biology. How do new body parts evolve? How does change at a genetic level lead to change at a phenotypic level? How do experience and environment influence physiology and morphology? The course emphasizes current research on these and related questions. The course also provides an overview of current research techniques in the field including immunohistochemistry and gene knock-outs/ins.  


Detailed Description of Content of Course
Lecture topics may include, but are not limited to:
I.    The evolutionary history of development
    a.    The Cambrian “explosion”
    b.    Domestication and developmental plasticity
    c.    Variation and specialization of the vertebrate brain
    d.    Developmental systems theory
II.    Development and evolution
    a.    Examples of developmental pathways
    b.    How developmental pathways influence evolution
    c.    Modification of an organism’s life history as an evolutionary mechanism
    d.    Morphological innovation of segment specialization
III.    The role of genetics in development
    a.    How multiple genes interact to control traits in Arabidopsis
    b.    Master development genes (Homeobox genes) and the developmental toolkit
    c.    Epigenetics and acquired changes in genes
    d.    Self-regulating systems without direct genetic control
IV.    Phenotype as the interaction of environment and genetics
    a.    Developmental abnormalities
    b.    Inducing gene expression through experience
    c.    Behavioral acquisition and its influence on gene expression


Detailed Description of Conduct of Course
The course will be taught in the lecture and discussion format.  Discussions may be group-based and would generally involve exploration of primary literature. Students would be introduced to basic concepts from the field during interactive lectures and familiarized with the material through the use of selected examples. Student groups might then be required to present and critique a current research article relevant to the subject in question. During these discussions students could be rewarded for accurately explaining and critiquing articles utilizing knowledge gleaned from the course, as well for proposing alterations to the experiment design or subsequent research projects that build on the study in question. These pedagogic strategies would provide students the opportunity to engage in interactive discussion and critical analysis, as well as improving verbal and written presentation skills.

The overall goal of the course is to familiarize students with the variety of topics incorporated under the general description of ‘evolutionary developmental biology’ and to give them the analytical tools needed to deconstruct research within the field. The course is intended to familiarize students with ongoing research and recent developments in the field, as well as to increase their appreciation for the integration of biological knowledge gained from earlier courses.


Goals and Objectives of the Course
Having successfully completed this course, the student will be able to:
- Give examples of variation in developmental pathways for several organisms, including both plants and animals
- Demonstrate critical analysis and discussion skills related to current topics in evolutionary developmental research
- Provide descriptions and explain reasoning for the role of development in evolutionary variation
- Describe epigenetic modulation
- Demonstrate an understanding of Developmental Systems Theory and how non-genomic regulation plays a role in physiological processes
- Describe current theories regarding morphogenesis and body part differentiation
- Describe how the interactions between genetic and environmental factor play a role in the development of organismic systems, citing specific examples


Assessment Measures
Student comprehension may be assessed through quizzes and exams.  Tests would be designed so that the students must demonstrate some synthesis and critical analysis.  Students may also be assessed on their group presentations, writing assignments and class discussion participation.  


Other Course Information


Review and Approval

04/2011