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Course Breakdown


Mid-Semester Test: 20%

Laboratories: 15%

Pre-Lab quizzes: 5%

Research paper reading: 10%

Exam: 50%

Course Information


The Recommended Textbooks for the course are:   

  • Wolpert & C. Tickle (2019): Principles of Development. 6th ed. OUP. 

  • S.F. Gilbert (2019): Developmental Biology. 12th ed. Sinauer.

  • R. A. Weinberg (2014) The Biology of Cancer. 2nd ed. Garland Science

Above textbooks are not required and should only be used for further clarification. They are also available online and relevant sections are provided under the reading lists. Practical and theory component must be passed separately. All major assessments are open-book and in person but is subject to change depending on the semester.

Basic Information

This course is about molecular, cellular and genetic aspects of normal and abnormal development which includes cancer. Through the use of animal models such as flies, frogs, zebrafish – underlying aspects of development are observed and how these processes can be altered to produce cancer and other abnormalities. The course is divided into 2 sections: developmental biology and cancer biology. These are further subdivided into modules, with 4 in total – each module has an assigned research paper on perusal where you will have to annotate, ask questions and answer other students’ questions to gain marks, each paper is worth 2.5%.

Laboratory Component

There are 6 labs for this course and each lab has an associated pre-lab quiz which needs to be completed before attending the lab, these are straightforward and are just to check that you have pre-read the lab materials before attending. The labs are based on lecture content so it is important to be up to date on the relevant lectures. The assignments are due 6 days after the lab and are submitted to canvas in a word document. 

The labs themselves are not difficult and it is quite an interesting experience working with live specimens. The sea urchin lab especially is a lot of fun. You will have access to the questions during the lab and are able to ask the TA’s for help on any of the questions and they will either give you the answer directly or lead you down the right thinking path. Labs 2 and 3 are submitted together after lab 3, the same for labs 5 and 6, however each of them have their own pre-lab quizzes.

Lecture Content

Mechanisms of Development

Module 1 covers the content for the first half of the semester and is assessed during the mid-semester test and does not appear again in the final exam. Hilary Sheppard takes the first 10 lectures and goes through everything related to general development from germ cells and fertilisation to model organisms like the nematode, frogs and fruit flies. Most of the basic development process is the same in each organism, but it is important to learn the distinguishing features and how they all differ from each other. Following on from Hilary’s lectures are the 2 lectures on Zebrafish from Dr. Jonathan Astin which will be relevant for labs 5 and 6 later on in the  semester.


Cellular Changes in Cancer

This module covers the main hallmarks of cancer and how the disruption of normal processes can lead to the development of cancer. This module is extremely content heavy with a lot of pathways and genes to understand.


Cancer Biology

This module focuses on types of cancer, touching on colorectal, cervical and skin cancer as well as one lecture on immunity and how it ties in to cancer. This module is quite straightforward, with the only difficult part distinguishing between the different subtypes of the same cancer.


Cancer Metastasis

This module focuses on the EMT cascade and how cancer cells invade distant sites of the body. There are 4 lectures in this module which flow on from each other.

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