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Development and Evolution


Admission requirements

This course can be attended by first or second year MSc students

Contact information

Coordinator: Dr. M. v.d. Zee


This course focuses on the field of evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo). The aim is to understand how genetic changes in development lead to novel morphologies in evolution. The course starts with the current state of evolutionary theory. Potentially new additions to the Modern Synthesis and their implications for evolutionary theory will be discussed. We will treat subjects like epigenetic inheritance, group selection and the role of behavior. In the second week, we will focus on development and discuss phenomena like developmental constraints, developmental bias and regulatory evolution. We will read and discuss cutting-edge papers from the field of both vertebrate and invertebrate evolutionary developmental biology. If the number of students allows, you will carry out a small research project using state-of-the-art molecular techniques such as RNAi.
The third week is entirely dedicated to the evolution and development of plants. This week is coordinated by Dr. Barbara Gravendeel and will have contributions from the natural history museum Naturalis and from the developmental genetics department at the IBL.
This course provides an excellent basis for MSc-research projects on various topics in evo-devo, both at IBL and Naturalis Biodiversity Center.

Learning goals

Course objectives:
The aim of the course is to provide an up-to-date overview of:

  • the field of vertebrate, invertebrate and plant evolutionary developmental biology

  • the current discussions on the state of evolutionary theory

Final qualifications:
The student schould be able to:

  • adequately formulate how novel concepts and ideas affect evolutionary theory

  • understand how genetic changes in development lead to novel morphologies

  • write a concise research report

  • write a coherent essay


From 27 October to 21 November 2014. The detailed time schedule is provided on Blackboard.

Mode of instruction

Every day, introductory lectures will be given to the subject. This will help you putting the papers into context.

Reading papers
Every day, you will read recent papers on evolutionary developmental biology. These papers include primary research as well as reviews and essays. On some days, you will be asked to collect arguments to support or oppose certain views.

We will discuss novel concepts and ideas and their influence on evolutionary theory. To encourage discussion, you will sometimes be divided into groups that should support or oppose a certain view. Your participation and contribution will be evaluated for your final mark.

Practical research project
If the number of students allows, you will carry out a small research project using the flour beetle Tribolium castaneum. RNA intereference will be used to functionally study the role of some key developmental genes. You will have to write a concise report.

At the end of the last week, you have to submit an essay by email to The essay should be chosen from a provided list of titles. Based on your top 3 preferences, titles will be allocated in such a way that not all students will write on an identical subject. The topics are covered in the lectures of the course. The essay should be submitted in electronic format. It should be no more than 1500 words excluding references. Your essay will be judged on the following points:

  1. correct use of key terminology
  2. structure (logical flow of the argument?)
  3. language (correct? understandable? professional?)
  4. overview (Did you cover a broad area?)
  5. depth (did you understand the biological/molecular details?)
  6. own input (did you simply reproduce the lectures, or did you find new content?)

Assessment method

Your final grade is composed of:

  • your participation in and contribution to the discussions (15%)

  • your practicum report (25%)

  • your final essay (60%)


Papers and lectures will be posted on blackboard. No text book will be used

Reading list

Reviews and research articles. Pdf’s will be posted on Blackboard.


via USIS and enroll in Blackboard

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Prospective students website for more information on how to apply.