What is Developmental Biology?

The study of how animals and plants grow and develop is called developmental biology. Hans Spemann is the most remarkable biologist of the twentieth century and the founder of developmental biology. Regenerative biology, asexual breeding, metamorphosis, and the proliferation and differentiation of stem cells in adult organisms are all examples of developmental biology.

Developmental process

In developmental biology, development is the series of serious biological changes associated with growth, information transfer, and differentiation during the life cycle of organisms. Growth is the increase in size due to cell expansion and cell division. Information transfer is the transmission of information through deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and other biological signals from a parent cell to a daughter cell. Differentiation is the change of unspecialized cells in a simple body pattern to specialized cells in a complex body pattern. Developmental biology studies plant and animal development, differentiation, and growth mechanisms at the cellular, molecular, genetic, and evolutionary levels. Sexual and asexual reproduction, metamorphosis, and seed and embryo germination are important aspects of developmental biology. Developmental biology research has revealed the roles of molecular developmental genetics, oncogenes, development regulation, differentiation processes, gametogenesis, and reproductive factors, as well as gene expression control, transcriptional regulation, cell connections, regulatory hierarchies, signal transduction, etc., in the development of an organism. In developmental biology, it is an essential factor to use different areas. In the biology field, developmental biology is very important.

The diagrammatic representation of developmental process is shown in the figure.
CC BY-SA 4.0 | Image Credits: https://commons.wikimedia.org | JMW Stack

Ontogeny, cell biology, and phylogenetic development are the fields related to developmental biology.

Ontogeny development

The ontogeny is a stage of the emergence and development of organisms. Ontogeny begins with changes in the egg during fertilization. It continues through developmental processes like growth, a remolding of body form, and the development of secondary sexual characteristics till birth or hatching. Fertilization is defined as the process of fusion of gametes to form a zygote. The zygote will give rise to a new individual or offspring through development. Ontogeny is a field in biological science that deals with ontogenesis and morphogenesis.


Cell biology is a part of biology that studies the cell structure and its functions. Cell biology is concerned with both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. Genetics and cell biology are utilized in developmental biology to study how genes and the environment interact to produce new individuals from a single cell. Genetics is the blueprint of life, a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) sequence.

Phylogentic development

Phylogeny is the study of the relationships between various groups of species and their evolutionary development. The phylogenetic tree is the final analysis of phylogeny. Understanding biodiversity, evolution, genomes, and ecology requires phylogenetic analysis to deduce the similarities and differences between the species. These differences and similarities between species are based on the development processes that organisms and their ancestors have gone through.

Stem cells in developmental biology

Stem cells are the natural units of tissue regeneration and embryonic development. These are one of the most important aspects of developmental biology. Embryonic stem cells have a nearly limitless capacity for self-renewal and the ability to specialize into almost any form of cell in an organism. Stem cells help the body to develop by regenerating new cells and replacing damaged or lost specialized cells. One essential feature of stem cells is the lack of tissue-specific structures to perform specialized functions. One of the distinguishing characteristics of stem cells is their ability to proliferate. They can divide and differentiate themselves into various cells of the body; hence can be said as one of the basic building components of the human body.

The different forms of stem cells are were shown in the figure
CC BY SA-4.0 | Image Credits: https://commons.wikimedia.org | Haileyfournier

Significance of developmental biology

  • Understanding the molecular, genetic, cellular, and integrative elements of organism development are aided by developmental biology.
  • Knowledge of normal developmental processes can help with understanding developmental disorders and other diseases such as cancer.
  • Developmental biology explains how a variety of interacting mechanisms produce an organism's diverse size, form, and structural characteristics as it develops from embryo to adult, or more broadly during a life cycle.

Uses of developmental biology

Developmental biology analyses the fundamental mechanisms underlying egg cell fertilization and its gradual metamorphosis into the fascinating complexity of an organism that makes many applications in various fields.

  • Developmental biology studies how fertilized egg cells divide in a regulated manner to grow into full-size bodies. It also highlight how the cells formed in this process communicate in meaningful ways to differentiate from one another, migrate, change shape, and attach, eventually assembling into tissues and complex organs.
  • Tissue engineering, the goal of which is to create new tissue in a plastic dish, is mostly influenced by developmental biology research.
  • Developmental biology aids in understanding the environmental impact of development. For example, it aids in the understanding of temperature-dependent sex determination in turtles, which is important for conservation biology, particularly at a time when pollution and global warming are on the rise.
  • Stem cell research has high hopes of replacing cartilage, for example, on arthritis or damaged disc or dementia brain cells, a large part of which is driven by significant information gained from developmental biology.

Context and Applications

This topic is essential in the professional exams for both school level, undergraduate, and postgraduate courses, especially for bachelors and masters in molecular biology, bachelors and masters in developmental biology.

Practice Problems

Question 1: Nuclear determinants is also called as ____________.

  1. Morphogens
  2. Organizers
  3. Inducers

Answer: Option 1 is correct.

Explanation: Nuclear determinants are also known as morphogens.

Question 2: The male gamete is ____________.

  1. Sperm
  2. Egg
  3. Primary oocyte

 Answer: Option 1 is correct. 

Explanation: Sperm is a male reproductive cell, also known as a gamete. The sperm unites with an ovum of the female to form a new offspring.

Question 3: Which cell has to be considered as a differentiated cell?

  1. Stem cells
  2. Blastomeres
  3. Muscle cell

Answer: Option 3 is correct.

Explanation: The muscle cell is considered to be a differentiated cell.

Question 4: Embryonic stem cells of mammals are derived from ___________.

  1. Gametes
  2. Inner cell mass
  3. Blastocoel

Answer: Option 2 is the correct answer.

Explanation: The stem cells are derived from the embryo's undifferentiated inner cell mass.

Question 5: Morphogenesis is concerned with___________.

  1. Cell growth
  2. Cell differentiation
  3. Shape of the cell organ or tissue

Answer: Option 3 is correct.

Explanation: Morphogenesis is concerned with the shape of the tissue or organ in whole organisms.

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