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Innovative experimental models in developmental biology and pathology


Innovative experimental models in developmental biology and pathology


Academic year 2022/2023

Course ID
BIO0175A Pds 306-TB
Teaching staff
Prof. Giorgio Roberto Merlo
Prof.ssa Daniela Taverna
Modular course
Degree course
[0101M22] Molecular Biotechnology
1st year
Teaching period
Second semester
Course disciplinary sector (SSD)
BIO/13 - experimental biology
Formal authority
Type of examination
Having attended the following courses
Developmental Biology,
Cell Biology,
Molecular Biology

Sommario del corso


Course objectives

Reexamine embryonic development focusing on homeostasis, stem cells, tissue and organ maintenance, complex cellular and molecular interactions.

Learn about modern advanced techniques for genome modification (conditional targeting, genome editing) and their use.

Deepen the knowledge on cellular and animal models, in vivo and in vitro experiments, combinations of experimental techniques, tissue engineering, 3D models, organoids.

Explore emerging strategies: gene correction and editing, gene therapy, miRNA and non-coding RNAs, optogenetics, single-cell analyses.


Results of learning outcomes

Acquire the ability to design a modern experimental approach, leading to a deeper knowledge in biology and biomedicine.

Acquire the ability to connect topics and subjects from advanced genetics, developmental biology and stem cell biology, disease state. With special emphasis towards genetic diseases, inborn developmental defects and cancer.

Acquire good knowledge on the main signalling systems, and on the main cellular processes underlying development and tissue maintenance.

Become confident on the experimental design, the (short- and long-term objectives, the choice of the appropriate model, the read-out, the specificity, the temporal and spatial resolution, etc…

Refine the ability to dissect and analyse a complex scientific paper, beyond content and information.


Course delivery

Teaching is divided in two parts:

  1.    About 8-10 frontal lessons, for a total of about 30 hrs., with slide presentations by the teacher. A highly interactive format will be adopted,  in which students are invited to raise questions, to provide answers, to put forth motivated opinions. All the slides are made available for the students, on line.
  2.   About 4 meeting, for a total of about 12 hrs, in which scientific articles from recent literature will be chosen, and used to illustrate the experimental approach, the background and the conclusions, the interpretation, the future perspectives. During these meetings, the students are invited top pair-up and chose article to be presented in the form of “Journal Club” followed by discussion. The same student pairs will be invited to chose a maximum of 3 articles with a logical connection between them, to be used to prepare a brief dissertation as their final test. 



Learning assessment methods

During lessons, the teacher interacts with the students, asking questions and soliciting answers and calling for a motivated comment on a specific subject. This activity is regarded as very useful and warrants a steady progression.

The final test is in the form of a written dissertation, prepared by individual students or better by pairs of them, and is organized in two parts

  1. Outline of a research project, starting from few initial queries or preliminary data. The project should be short and concise, but introduce modern techniques and demonstrate a link between topics illustrated in class.
  2. A critical examination of a set of 2-3 recent research articles, that should touch on at least two topics illustrated in class, and show a clear link between them. In addition to illustrating the content of the articles, in this part of the test the students must take the opportunity and further advance on the knowledge on the chosen topics, way beyond what has already been taught.

The final score is given considering the chosen scientific material, the overall illustration, but mainly the ability of connect topics presented in class with novel emerging issues, and expand on these. A discussion with the students on the final dissertation is also possible, although not always necessary.



Support activities

The teacher is always available for the students for 30 min. after each lesson. The teacher is also available for discussing issues related to the course subject, upon appointment.

In order to prepare the final dissertation (written test) the teacher assists the students on chosing appropriate articles and topics, and may solicit a short presentation to all the other students with slides and discussion.




Embryonic development: techniques, models, experimental strategies, key questions.

Animal models: from Drosophila to Mouse, advantages, disadvantages, applications

Models with specific applications (for imaging, Gain-of-function, in vivo reporters).

Experimental strategies that combine in vivo and in vitro approaches. 

Models of genetic and developmental diseases.

Use of viruses and gene transduction (AAV, Retrovirus, Lentivirus, RCAS)

Tissue engineering, 3D models, cells-on.chip, organoids.

Use of early-response gene for mapping neuronal activity.

Optogenetics and related strategies.

Single-cell analyses and applied strategies.


Genome Modification I, standard

Genome Modification II, advanced

Conditional methods. Gene-editing methods.

Alternative ways to manipulate the genome (Zn-nuclease, TALEN, Crispr-Cas9).

How to study micro-RNAs and non-coding RNAs


Suggested readings and bibliography


There is no specific textbook that can be suggested.  All slides and presentation shown in class are available on line, on the dedicated page.

During lessons, specific reference to published articles is made, with references.  These can be downloaded from PubMed



Due to the sanitary restrictions imposed by the ongoing pandemic of SARS-COV2, the teaching activity and modality might change and cannot be predicted at the moment. The DAD (remote, on-line) mode will be always provided, but it is preferred to have lessons and discussion IN PRESENCE, if the sanitary situation will consent.

Last update: 28/10/2021 14:39
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