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The integrated lectures and laboratories provide a comprehensive coverage of the paradigms, problems, and technologies of modern developmental biology.  Students are exposed to a wide variety of developmental systems, including intensively studied genetic model systems (e.g. C. elegans, Drosophila, zebrafish, mouse) and others with well-established experimental attributes (e.g. chick, sea urchins, frogs, ascidians).  In addition, students will be introduced to a wide range of emerging systems, including locally available marine organisms, that help fill in the evolutionary history of animal diversity (e.g. cnidarians, nemerteans, planaria, crustaceans, mollusks, annelids) and that are becoming established as experimental systems in their own right.

Analytical and experimental techniques used to explore invertebrate and vertebrate development include embryological perturbations (e.g. cell ablation, tissue grafting), molecular genetic manipulations (e.g. RNAi, in vivo electroporation) and cell biology approaches (e.g. analysis of cell lineage and migratory behavior).  Students also make extensive use of microscopic and imaging technologies (e.g. confocal and 3-D time lapse), using state-of-the-art instrumentation and methodology.  Once introduced to basic techniques for each organism, students are encouraged to design their own experiments to explore areas that interest them the most.  Conceptual topics include cell specification and differentiation, pattern formation, embryonic axis formation, morphogenesis, intercellular signaling, transcriptional regulation, organogenesis, and modern comparative embryology.  The remarkably broad phylogenetic coverage of the labs and lectures is an especially unique aspect of the course, and one that allows students to analyze the developmental strategies that drive evolutionary change and diversification. 

Students should expect to be challenged, and the work is hard.  Lectures and labs are held six days a week and labs can stretch well into the night.  The course has been called a “boot camp for embryologists”, but at the same time it is an enjoyable experience, with time to enjoy the pleasures of Woods Hole and the camaraderie of your fellow students.  While six weeks is a long break from your own research, the techniques and approaches you learn will benefit you for many years to come, and your fellow students will become your colleagues as well as friends for life.

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