Evolutionary Developmental Biology

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Course Description

  • Course Name

    Evolutionary Developmental Biology

  • Host University

    Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

  • Location

    Amsterdam, The Netherlands

  • Area of Study


  • Language Level

    Taught In English

  • Course Level Recommendations


    ISA offers course level recommendations in an effort to facilitate the determination of course levels by credential evaluators.We advice each institution to have their own credentials evaluator make the final decision regrading course levels.

    Hours & Credits

  • ECTS Credits

  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
  • Overview

    - Understand the basic principle of evolution and natural selection, source and origin of natural variation.
    - Understand how body axes are being formed and which genetic factors are implicated in this process
    - Knowledge on Hox gene evolution and its impact on the evolution of body plans.
    - Understand how transcriptional regulatory evolution is associated with anatomical diversity of body plans
    - Understand and apply different techniques of phylogenetic reconstruction
    - Knowledge on the evolutionary context of disease and antibiotic resistance
    - Critically analyse and communicate a scientific publication on evolutionary developmental biology to a broader audience.
    - Improve presentation skills for peers.

    Current biomedical sciences increasingly appreciates and incorporates evolutionary theory, because it is essential to understand the impact of genetic variation on treatment of diseases and development of antibiotic resistance. This course consists of 3 modules, whereby evolutionary developmental biology will be placed in a biomedical context at different levels of biological organization from morphology down to the molecular mechanisms. The emphasis is on model organisms important for biomedical research. We will give more insight into the evolution of body plans and organs and finally the genetic mechanisms that underly evolutionary developmental biology in humans and biomedical models.

    Module 1, Week 1-3: We provide knowledge on the evolution of hominins, the ancestors of modern humans from an anatomical and paleo
    biological perspective. Moreover, the relevance and importance of the most commonly used model organisms in biomedical research
    (Drosophila, C. elegans, the mouse, chicken and claw frog ) will be introduced and discussed. We emphasize on their relevance in the context of developmental biology. Their evolutionary position is discussed as well as the importance of it model for biomedical research. We will discuss genetics of the formation of body axes on the basis of these models and how this can be extrapolated to genetics of axes formation in humans.
    Choosing the right partner influences successful conception and embryonic development. During partner selection body odor appears to
    have play an important role in vertebrate evolution, due to maintaining an optimal immune system. we discuss whether this still impacts partner choice in humans. Therefore, we organize a practical exercise to study partner choice in relation to an optimal immune system with all students to deepen our knowledge on this subject. Students will genotype their adaptive immune system. Based on these data partner choice panels of male students will be formed. Female students will subsequently judge pleasantness and attractiveness of shirts from male students worn during one night sleep.
    Presentation is an important aspect of scientific research. During a working group students will be trained to give short presentations (5
    minutes) with specific attention to attitude, pronunciation, speech rate and contact with audience. The content of the presentation is linked to the lecture material of this course.

    Module 1 will be assessed by a digital partial exam using multiple choice questions.

    Module 2, week 4-5: Phylogenetic analysis plays an essential role evolutionary biology. Therefore, lectures as well as a working group and
    a computer exercise will be organized to provide and apply knowledge on phylogenetic reconstruction. The working group phylogeny will emphasize the principle of maximum parsimony, while a computer exercise on forensic evolutionary analysis will train students in understanding and applying unweighted pair group clustering using arithmetic means (UPGMA). We will also deepen are knowledge on the evolution of body plans and the genetic principles driving evolution of body plans. Special attention will be given to the Hox gene complex. Elaborate training in the complexity in genetic terms associated with Hox gene- and body plan evolution will be facilitated by a mind mapping working group. Finally, we’ll discuss the impact and evolutionary consequences of hybridization between homo species for present humans.

    Week 6; module 2 will be assessed by digital partial exam 2 using multiple choice questions.

    Week 6-7: The evolution of the brain will be discussed in great detail. In addition, we provide an evolutionary perspective on medicine. The
    emergence of antibiotic resistance and adaptation of pathogenic viruses that disrupt normal development will be given special attention. Also, we asked the question ‘What makes us human?’ In this context will highlight the evolution human accelerated regions, which are DNA sequences in the human genome that show extreme high evolutionary change only in the human lineage. The evolution of some main organ structures will be discussed with special emphasis on the heart, lungs and genital structure. Also, the extent of neutral evolution in human populations will be discussed.
    A journal club is organized to provide more training and experience in presentation skills. The students choose a scientific article on an
    evolutionary developmental biology topic. During a workgroup each article is discussed in sub groups in great detail. There is plenty of
    opportunity to ask questions about pros and cons each scientific publication. Powerpoint slides need to be uploaded by each subgroup into CANVAS before the start of the journal club. Subsequently, the journal club is organized in which all student groups present their studied
    paper. The assessment is performed based on a standardized rubrics scoring form. All rubric scores will be compared among different
    presentations to come to objective decision.

    Week 8: module 3 will be assessed by digital partial exam 3 using multiple choice questions.

    - Lectures 30 hours
    - Working groups 15 hours
    - Practical 18 hours: Partner choice experiment: genotyping, phenotyping. Interpretation of results and synthesizing knowledge on partner choice and its impact on variation in the adaptive immune system.
    - Training presentation skills: 5 minute short presentations as well as journal club presentation in sub groups, including feedback on academic English by the Academic Language Program.
    - Phylogenetic reconstruction using two different algorithms. 8 hours.

    Three partial exams: digital examination of multiple choice assignments.

    Around 50 assignments per partial exam. The mean grade of all 3 exams makes up for 75% of the final grade. Knowledge from lectures, practical and working groups will be assessed. Mean grade of the exams needs to be 5.5 or higher in order to pass the course.

    Presentation Journal club will be graded on the basis of a standard rubric form. This grade represents 25% of the final grade.

Course Disclaimer

Courses and course hours of instruction are subject to change.

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