Course Objectives

Since its beginning in 1893, the Embryology Course has had a rich and unparalled influence in shaping the field of developmental biology and the biomedical sciences more broadly, with seven students and eight faculty becoming Nobel Laureates, and many others being prominent scientific leaders and pioneers. The contributions and impact of the Embryology Course throughout its long history to the scientific community and society-at-large was recognized in 2009 by the Society for Developmental Biology (SDB). SDB presented the Embryology Course with a special 70th Anniversary Education Award “…for its outstanding heritage of teaching generations of developmental biologists.”

The objective of this intensive six-week laboratory and lecture course is to train advanced graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and more senior researchers for research and teaching careers in traditional and expanding areas of developmental biology in a unique intellectual and physical environment not duplicated in the nation’s universities, medical schools, or research institutes. A goal of the Embryology Course is to address major questions currently being pursued in the field of developmental, stem cell, and regenerative biology, followed by critical, exhaustive discussions and laboratory experiments in which techniques, ranging from classic to cutting-edge, are presented and then explored directly in the lab. Often described as a “boot camp” for developmental biologists, outstanding students are chosen from a highly competitive domestic and international applicant pool of individuals who seek a broad and balanced view of modern issues in animal development. Consistently throughout the history of the course, a number of students from each year’s class have later moved into positions of leadership in the international developmental biology community, and course alumni include many of the most prominent members of the field.

The Embryology Course is a unique, high-level educational enterprise, which simultaneously provides as its primary objective:

  • Sophisticated conceptual and experimental familiarity with many major embryological systems (g., C. elegans, Drosophila, Xenopus, zebrafish, chick, mice.)
  • Emphasis on comparative and evolutionary aspects, and on diversity of embryonic cellular mechanisms, by use of additional marine organisms, including cnidarians, ctenophores, molluscs, annelids, cephalopods, and ascidians. The new information of genome sequences has led to adoption of additional model systems (g., Ciona, Nematostella, the planarian Schmidtea mediterranea, tardigrades and Acoelomates), and deeper comparative studies.
  • A format that traverses different levels of biological organization, extending through cell lineage, blastomere interaction, embryonic inductions, cellular morphogenesis, organogenesis, to differential gene regulation and signal transduction. All major modes of analysis are considered together as the subject matter and organism indicate; (i.e., genetic, molecular, genomic, and cell biological modes of analysis).
  • Continued growth in areas of basic research that address questions of human biology, stem cells, tissue regeneration, and disease (g., planarian, cnidarian, and acoel regeneration).
  • An opportunity for students to utilize microscopy, micromanipulation, and gene/protein interference approaches to ask questions that have never been asked before, often on embryos that have not previously been subjected to these types of experimental analysis.
  • A laboratory program that includes sophisticated imaging techniques, cross-species immunocytological investigations, gene regulatory factor identification, microinjection, cell lineage tracing, and transplantations.
  • An intellectually stimulating, intense, fast-paced, collegial atmosphere in which the students work long hours, every night, and where an understanding of major issues is enriched by a Socratic teaching format in which there is continuous discursive interchange between and amongst faculty and students.