Current Topics in Developmental Biology: 50


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As a student of both biology and religion in college, it struck me how the rise and separation of genetics from embryology, and the disparagement of the parent discipline by some of the acolytes of the new discipline, echoed the supersessionist rhetoric of Christianity as it separated from Judaism. Even more interestingly, some of the founders and critics of early genetics seemed to think so, too [ 12 ]. Genetics was to replace embryology. There were many reasons for the dominance of genetics during the 20th century, not the least of which were the destruction of the Continental European laboratories during the two World Wars and the fear of mutations caused by the detonation and testing of atomic bombs [ 14 , 15 ].

As English replaced German as the language of science, so genetics replaced physiology and development, including theories of development as the motor of evolution. In fact, Darwin explicitly viewed plant biodiversity as being predicated by alterations of floral development [ 18 ]. He also noted that natural selection could not produce the variations that provided the raw material for natural selection [ 18 — 20 ].

Evolutionary biologists such as Huxley and Herbert Spencer were greatly influenced by embryologist K. That view shifted with the advent of genetics. This was important because it would quiet both the Creationists in America and those scientists who favored Lysenko, the leader of Soviet biology, who embraced a Lamarckian theory of acquired heritability [ 27 ]. Embryology had given rise to the first mechanistic theories of evolution, only to be usurped by its rebellious child, genetics. Evolutionary developmental biology is now emphasizing that the emergence of new phenotypes occurs during embryonic development, and that developmental regulatory genes are crucial for evolution.

Evolutionary biology cannot explain evolution by population genetics, alone. Knowledge of development is critical in explaining the origins of species. And this, as I explained to the graduate student, is the return of the rightful sovereign.

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Neurobiology similarly has an embryological pedigree, and in the early s, one of its biggest concerns was whether the axon was really a cellular process that extended meters in the body. In the s and s, those embryonic laws were beginning to be explained by morphogenetic fields, and as early as , C. Waddington [ 32 ] claimed that cancers could be studied as derangements of morphological fields established in the embryo. Tumors were seen as recapitulations of or truncated stages of normal development, and oncology emerged from the work of developmental biologists studying how misregulation leads to aberrant growth.

During the mid-to-late 20th century, there was a fascinating reciprocal interaction between the two disciplines, as developmental biology provided mechanisms for cancer growth and cancer biology became a niche in which developmental biology could be nourished i. Scientists such as T. Boveri, G. Pierce, and R. Auerbach used embryological means to study tumors and used tumors to study embryology. The breakthroughs in cloning were done on cancer grants to study gene regulation [ 35 ].

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Yet, genetics soon assumed dominance over the field of cancer research just as it had with evolutionary biology whose paradigms cancer biologists often propose for their own field. The founding document of the genetic somatic mutation theory of cancer appears to be that of Boveri [ 36 ]. Boveri was very much a cytologist and an embryologist, and he related the anomalies of cancer to those developmental anomalies caused by polyspermy and by chromosome elimination during nematode development, noting that such chromosomal rearrangements might be the cause of cancer.

This was a later addition, probably by Morgan. The somatic mutation theory SMT still holds sway, claiming that cancer was due to mutations in the premalignant cell. This failure to gain traction for a developmental approach to cancer is more likely due to the inability of the target to respond.


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But things may be changing. The basis for the allele-oriented SMT has recently been questioned [ 39 — 41 ], and the relevance of embryonic fields to cancer has been re-established [ 38 — 44 ]. Alterations in paracrine factor signaling in both the target and producer cells have been seen to initiate cancer formation, and embryonic processes such as epithelial-mesenchymal transformation are now seen as critical in metastasis.

It is without question, though, that developmental biology helped establish oncology and has continued to help mold it. The rightful sovereign returns. Having generated cell biology, immunology, genetics, neurobiology, and oncology, developmental biology still seems to be budding off new disciplines. Evolutionary developmental biology sees evolution as Huxley did, as changes in development rather than changes in allele frequency and focuses on the arrival of the fittest.

Ecological developmental biology sees the environment as having instructive as well as permissive agency in normal development.

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Systems biology, which began with embryologically oriented philosophers such as Woodger and von Bertalanffy [ 45 — 47 ], attempts to fuse developmental biology, ecology, and physiology into an integrative science of becoming. And other new disciplines are struggling to form an identity separate from their developmental parent discipline.

Stem cell biology has its own meetings, its own journals, and its own professional societies, different from those of developmental biology. When Irving Weismann, one of the founders of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, became president of that organization, he threw down the gauntlet to developmental biology, saying [ 48 ],. Like anything new, we are a threat to the established order, and at every kind of educational and research institution, to thrive, we must be recognized as entities, not as divisions of old entities.

But it is not yet a truly independent field, as it has yet to propose anything different from developmental biology. All the articles in Stem Cell Reports are papers that would find a home in journals of developmental biology. At the moment, stem cell biology is a political, rather than an intellectual, bud from developmental biology, and it is performing important services in creating science-based educational accessibility and political guidelines, which the developmental biology societies have not done.

Whether it becomes more than a medical aspect of developmental biology remains to be seen. There are three main messages of this essay.


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  • The first is that developmental biology is not a confined, specified discipline—such as genetics, cell biology, immunology, oncology, neurobiology, and so forth. Developmental biology is not confined to any level of organization in that genes, cells, tissues, organs, organisms, and ecosystems can each be studied developmentally. It can be studied in any species, organ system, or biome.

    Developmental biology remains pluripotent. The descendants of developmental biology—cell biology, genetics, immunology, neurobiology—are more differentiated and their potency much more restricted. They have boundaries. Surely, developmental biology has its own set of questions, perhaps the best questions of any science—How does the brain form? How do testes usually originate in people with a Y chromosome and ovaries in people with two X chromosomes?

    And these are only a few of the questions in humans —and it regenerates itself constantly as new techniques and hypotheses become available. Thus, developmental biology is a stem cell discipline, one that regenerates itself while permitting some of its descendants to develop into their own fields.

    The second message is that developmental biology remains a vital generative science. The induced pluripotential stem cells iPSCs are derived from the principles and discoveries of developmental biologists, as are the human beta-pancreatic cells now in clinical trials. The neural embryoids derived from such cells are now being used to study the mechanisms by which the Zika virus causes microcephaly.

    The 3D structure of chromatin and its remodeling during early mammalian development is becoming known, as are the mechanisms of X-chromosome inactivation. Developmental biology is also being expanded by identifying the interactions of the zygote-derived cells with those of symbiotic microbes to form organ gut, capillary, and immune cells.

    We are discovering how the turtle gets its shell and how the butterfly wing develops structural colors. We are in a new golden age of developmental biology. Thus, modern biology has come to the place where developmental biology has always been residing, a place of context-dependent interactions. Being relatively undifferentiated does not mean that developmental biology is immature [ 47 , 49 — 51 ]. Indeed, it is a science that was initiated with Aristotle and is now at the forefront of contemporary theories and methods. We can expect that even if developmental biology is not mentioned by name, the principles of developmental biology are becoming a framework integrating disciplines across biology.

    The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. Provenance: Commissioned; externally peer reviewed. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. PLoS Biol.

    Published online Dec Scott F. Author information Copyright and License information Disclaimer. As the author of a developmental biology textbook, I acknowledge that I desire courses in developmental biology to be mandatory for all biology majors and pre-meds. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

    This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Abstract Developmental biology including embryology is proposed as "the stem cell of biological disciplines. Footnotes Provenance: Commissioned; externally peer reviewed. References 1. Keller EF. Refiguring life: metaphors of twentieth century biology.

    Author s : Wassarman, Paul M. Publisher: Elsevier Science. Catalog Smart Courseshelves. Remember me Forgot password?

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    How to Signup? There are mainly 2 options: 1 - Your institution handles itself the process of account creation login and password : Please contact your librarian who will provide you with your access codes. We also invite you to ask your colleagues, friends, professors or librarians for help. They should know how to proceed…. It has turned out that there is much conservation of developmental mechanisms across the animal kingdom.

    In early development different vertebrate species all use essentially the same inductive signals and the same genes encoding regional identity. Even invertebrates use a similar repertoire of signals and genes although the body parts formed are significantly different. Model organisms each have some particular experimental advantages which have enabled them to become popular among researchers.

    In one sense they are "models" for the whole animal kingdom, and in another sense they are "models" for human development, which is difficult to study directly for both ethical and practical reasons. Model organisms have been most useful for elucidating the broad nature of developmental mechanisms.


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    • Current Topics in Developmental Biology, Volume 50 - 1st Edition.
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    • The more detail is sought, the more they differ from each other and from humans. Also popular for some purposes have been sea urchins [41] and ascidians. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For the journal, see Developmental Biology journal. Main article: Embryogenesis. Further information: Plant development.

      Blastocyst Body plan Cell signaling Cell signaling networks Embryology Enhancer Fish development Gene regulatory network Ontogeny Plant evolutionary developmental biology Promoter biology Signal transduction Teratology. Nat Genet. Archived PDF from the original on Academic Press, Burlington MA. Developmental Biology. Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences.

      Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Developmental Biology. Chapter Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford. Trends in Biochemical Sciences. Nat Rev Genet. How metazoans reach their full size: the natural history of bigness. Hall, Raff, M. Growth Diffn. In Bate and Martinez-Arias eds. Plant Growth and Development , page New York: McGraw-Hill, Growth regulators and conifers: their physiology and potential uses in forestry. July Molecular Biology and Evolution. Archived from the original on North-Holland, Amsterdam.

      Trends in Genetics. Developmental Cell. A Laboratory Manual, Fourth Edition. Patterning the early sea urchin embryo. Current Topics in Developmental Biology. Current Opinion in Cell Biology.

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      A Laboratory Manual. Developmental biology. Evolutionary developmental biology. Human embryogenesis in the first three weeks. Hypoblast Epiblast. Surface ectoderm Neuroectoderm Somatopleuric mesenchyme Neurulation Neural crest. Splanchnopleuric mesenchyme. Development of the human body.

      Current Topics in Developmental Biology: 50 Current Topics in Developmental Biology: 50
      Current Topics in Developmental Biology: 50 Current Topics in Developmental Biology: 50
      Current Topics in Developmental Biology: 50 Current Topics in Developmental Biology: 50
      Current Topics in Developmental Biology: 50 Current Topics in Developmental Biology: 50
      Current Topics in Developmental Biology: 50 Current Topics in Developmental Biology: 50
      Current Topics in Developmental Biology: 50 Current Topics in Developmental Biology: 50
      Current Topics in Developmental Biology: 50 Current Topics in Developmental Biology: 50
      Current Topics in Developmental Biology: 50 Current Topics in Developmental Biology: 50

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