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Module 2: Introduction to Development

Introduction and Learning Objectives: 

This module introduces the underlying developmental biology principles from fertilization to differentiated cell types, starting from the archetypal totipotent cell - the fertilized embryo. Students will learn about in vivo pluripotency and the changes that take place, from fertilization and gastrulation to cell fate commitment in the early embryo. At the conclusion of the module, students will understand how a cell with the potential to become any cell type in the body differentiates into various tissues with unique identities and functions. There is a particular focus on organizing centers, signaling molecules, and transcription factors controlling differentiation trajectories. Throughout this module students will review landmark developmental processes during embryonic development to contextualize stem cells and differentiation strategies. 

At the conclusion of this module, students should be able to:

  • describe the early stages of fertilization and development across multiple species;
  • identify the source of mammalian ESCs and extraembryonic tissues;
  • describe the importance and cell movements of gastrulation, and compare and contrast gastrulation in different model organisms (frog, zebrafish, chicken, mouse);
  • identify different germ layers in development and their derivatives;
  • recognize the distinctions between totipotency, pluripotency, and multipotency;
  • summarize mechanisms that regulate differentiation;
  • compare and contrast how embryonic organizers, morphogens, and transcriptional signaling pattern the early embryo;
  • apply how these phenomena learned in this module may be used in vitro.

Core Concepts

1. Early development: fertilization, totipotency, and pluripotency 
2. Gastrulation and lineage commitment in the early embryo 
3. Mechanisms of cell fate determination in vivo
4. Specification and development of primordial germ cells 

This module is part of the ISSCR's Core Concepts in Stem Cell Biology: Syllabus and Learning Guide. To access the experiments, theories, and primary and secondary literature that support each of these concepts, download the complete resource by using the form on the right-hand side of this webpage.

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Education Committee

Esteban Orlando Mazzoni, PhD (Chair)
New York University, USA

William J. Anderson, PhD
Harvard University, USA

Sina Bartfeld, PhD
University of Wuerzburg, Germany

Anna Couturier
EuroStemCell and University of Edinburgh, UK

Yvanka de Soysa, PhD
Boston Children's Hospital, USA

Robin Scott Hawley, PhD
Stowers Institute for Medical Research, USA

Ping Hu, PhD
Shanghai Institute of Biochemistry and Cell Biology Chinese Academy of Sciences, China

Yuin Han Jonathan Loh, PhD
Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Singapore

Lolitika Mandal, PhD
Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Mohali, India

Zubin Master, PhD
Mayo Clinic, USA

Alysson Renato Muotri, PhD
University of California, San Diego, USA

Jose Maria Polo, PhD
Monash University, Australia

Julie Perlin, PhD
International Society for Stem Cell Research, USA