Biology 450: Evolutionary and societal impacts of developmental biology (3,0). 3 credits. Section 1. Offered spring.


Instructor: Dr. Christopher Rose    


Office hours: Mon & Thurs 2:30-5; look for me in my office and lab; email me for an appointment outside of office hours.

Office: Bioscience 2028A  Lab: Bioscience 2022

Phone: 568-6666             email:



Catalogue description: Evolutionary and Societal Impacts of Developmental Biology (3,0). 3 credits. Offered spring

Discussion-based course on topical issues in developmental biology and how they impact animal evolution, bioethics, human identity and environmental science. Prerequisite: Bio 224.


Expanded description: Discussion-based course on topical issues in developmental biology and how they impact animal evolution, bioethics, human identity and environmental science. Developmental biology has a unique position in both science and society. The field occupies a central position in modern biology, having well defined interfaces with the mechanistic sciences of genetics and cell and molecular biology, and rapidly emerging interfaces with the more organismal areas of ecology, environmental science and evolutionary biology. Just as developmental processes and mechanisms play key roles in understanding the organism in its ecological and evolutionary contexts, developmental biology plays a key role in integrating disparate biological sub-disciplines to better understand the history and complexity of life.

In a more general sense, developmental biology also ranks as the science of our times, as the field is currently impacting our lives and our view of life in more profound ways than any other science. Recent advances in cloning, embryonic stem cell research, tissue engineering, and reproductive technology are combining with new information from the human genome and other -ome projects to create a new era when science will offer cures for aliments such as genetic disease, paralysis and organ failure that are presently viewed as inherent limitations of the human condition. Developmental genetics and the multiple species genome projects are revealing surprising insights into how animals and plants control their development and how humans evolved their distinguishing anatomy, mental capacity and behavior. Evolutionary biology theory is generating insight into our understanding of developmental phenomenon like aging and the health problems associated with human pregnancy. Developmental biology is also experiencing a renewed appreciation for the pervasive role of environmental factors in the development of anatomy and conditions like obesity, old-age diseases, fertility, and cancer. Recent discoveries highlight the ability of behavior and environmental factors to regulate development by modifying the chemical structure of DNA bases and their associated proteins, and open up a new science of evolution beyond natural selection.


Course goals and objectives:

1. Attain an in-depth understanding of specific developmental biology phenomena by discussing the relevant biological mechanisms and the research methods used to investigate them.

2. Promote thinking across different sub-disciplines of biology by discussing topics that emphasize the integrative nature of developmental biology and make connections between different ways of understanding the same phenomenon.

3. Explore the ethical implications of scientific progress by discussing topics that provoke public debate about the utility and potential misuse of the science involved.


For each topic, the professor will lecture on the underlying scientific principles and research methodologies, and then the class will explore the integrative and controversial aspects of the topics though student-led discussions of primary literature.


Prerequisites: BIO 224.


Course time and place: TTh 9:30-10:45 in Bioscience 2202


Required texts and materials: none


Adding/dropping class: Policy and deadlines can be found at


Disabilities: Policy and deadlines can be found at

Course schedule:                                     






Jan. 8

Course introduction


Jan. 10

Lec 1: Topic #1a: How did we evolve from other hominids?


Jan. 15

Lec 2: Topic #1b: What were the key developmental changes and regulatory genes involved?


Jan. 17

Discussion of readings


Jan. 22

Discussion of readings


Jan. 24

Lec 3: Topic #2a: The concept of cloning


Jan. 29

Lec 4: Topic #2b: What did we learn from Dolly and where are we now?


Jan. 31

Discussion of readings


Feb. 5

Discussion of readings


Feb. 7

Discussion of readings on cloning ethics


Feb. 12

Assessment Day


Feb. 14

Lec 5: Topic #3a: Aging and its physiological basis


Feb. 19

Lec 6: Topic #3b: The evolutionary basis of aging


Feb. 21

Discussion of readings


Feb. 26

Discussion of readings


Feb. 28

Midterm Exam


Mar. 5

Spring Break


Mar. 7

Spring Break


Mar. 12

Lec 7: Topic #4a: Human pregnancy and the genetic conflict theory


Mar. 14

Lec 8: Topic #4b: Genomic imprinting and the genetic conflict theory


Mar. 19

Discussion of readings


Mar. 21

Discussion of readings


Mar. 26

Lec 9: Topic #5a: The developmental basis of human sexuality


Mar. 28

Lec 10: Topic #5b: Variation in the development of human sexuality


Apr. 2

Video and discussion of cultural perceptions of “normal” sexuality


Apr. 4

Discussion of readings


Apr. 9

Discussion of readings


Apr. 11

Lec 11: Topic #6a: The role of environmental factors in animal development


Apr. 16

Lec 12: Topic #6b: NonDarwinian evolution


Apr. 18

Discussion of readings


Apr. 23

Discussion of readings


Apr. 25

Catch-up and review



Final Exam





Grading will be based on the scores of a midterm exam (30%) a noncumulative final exam (30%), a student-led class discussion (10%), class participation (12%), and six 1-page typed summaries of readings to be handed in at the beginning of the class discussion (18%). Midterm and final exams will be comprised of short essay questions that might require the use of diagrams. Exams will cover material from lectures and assigned readings.


TO DO WELL on lecture exams, students are recommended to do THREE THINGS. First, you attend class, pay attention, and be active note takers, which means that you do not limit this task to just copying what the teacher writes on the blackboard. Second, after each class, you review your notes and the assigned readings, and if you still don't understand the material, you seek clarification in office hours at that time. Third, you prepare and use study notes before each exam.


ALL STUDENTS ARE EXPECTED TO DO ALL THE ASSIGNED READINGS. The readings for which you are required to produce 1-page summaries will be posted at least one period before they are due. The summaries must be written in your own words and without the use of direct quotations from the text. They will be evaluated with a score of 0 (not done or handed in on time), 1 (inadequate effort), 2 (adequate effort but missed one or more key points), or 3 (adequate effort indicating good comprehension of the article).


Student-led class discussions will be evaluated on the basis of degree of preparedness, organization of material, communication skills, comprehension of the main points of the articles, and ability to lead and engage the class in discussion. The MOST IMPORTANT factor is whether the student makes an effort to process and synthesize the information from the article on their own. Do they present and verbalize the ideas in their own words, or do they simply repeat phrases directly from the text?


Final letter grades will be assigned using the standard numerical scale (e.g., > 90 = A, 80-89 = B, etc.). Grades of WP and WF will not be given out in this class.


Missed classes, exams and deadlines: While there is no penalty for missing classes, students are strongly recommended to come to all classes and to come to office hours to make up for missed classes. If you have a valid excuse (school-recognized religious observation; official school business; job, court or graduate school interview; sickness with doctor’s note; death or serious illness in family) for missing an exam or assignment deadline, contact me by email at least three days before the date in question and you will either be given an extension or make-up exam or have your grade calculated on the basis of the remaining evaluations. If you do not have a valid excuse or fail to contact me three days before the date, your grade will be zero.


Inclement weather policies: Missed classes will be made up at times to be announced at the next class meeting. On days when the start of school is delayed past the start of a class, the professor will announce by email whether the class will still be held.


Religious observation accommodations: Policy and deadlines can be found at


Honor Code: All students are expected to be familiar with and abide by the JMU Honor Code ( Forms of academic dishonesty include cheating on tests or homework, lending your work to another person to submit it as his or her own, reporting false data, selling or uploading unauthorized documents from a class, deliberately creating false information on a works cited or reference page; and plagiarism, presenting another person’s writing, ideas or results as your own, whether intentional or not. Work submitted for this course must be your own and written for this course. To avoid plagiarism in writing, paraphrased and quoted materials must be properly cited in the text and referenced in the bibliography (see above); unnecessary or excessive use of direct quotations will be penalized.


Final exam schedule: Consult the university website


For educational rights and privacies, consult the following websites:

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974

FERPA for Parents

FERPA for Faculty

JMU compliance with FERPA


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