Developmental Biology, Stem Cells & Aging

Metazoan biology requires cells to develop into defined cell types, with stem cells providing key regenerative capacity. Aging is the cumulative failure of regeneration and cellular maintenance. MCB faculty explore how organisms develop from single cells, how stem cells provide regrowth, and how loss of function in fundamental processes contributes to aging.

Area Directors

Area Directors help advise students about classes and rotations in their interest area. They also provide a listing of suggested courses for those interested in Developmental Biology, Stem Cells & Aging.

Faculty Area Directors

Student Area Directors

Suggested Curriculum

The suggested curriculum outlined below is meant to guide you in choosing classes, they are not requirements. We highly encourage you to take the Foundational courses, while the Electives are more specialized and often cross between Areas of Interest. Remember to review the UW Time Schedule for the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding whether a course is currently being offered.

2023-2024 Suggested Curriculum (document download)

CONJ 530 – Directing Stem Cells Toward Regenerative Medicine

In this class we will discuss three topics: the recent findings on adult and embryonic stem cell classes and their niches, on epigenetic control of stem cells and stem cells in human disease. Learning objectives: After this class, the students should have a solid foundation on stem cell biology, epigenetic analysis and regulation of stem cells and human diseases connected to stem cell biology.
Offered WIN, 3.0 credits, Weeks 1-10, Will be offered in WIN 2025

CONJ 542 – Cell Biology of Development

The goals of this course are:
• To introduce students to the cell biological mechanisms that mediate developmental processes
• To demonstrate the conservation of developmental processes across organisms and organ systems
• To encourage curiosity-driven questioning
• To enhance student skills required to analyze and interpret primary literature in cell and developmental biology, to develop presentation skills to communicate key ideas, and to write effective critiques of scientific literature

The course will focus on four topics that reveal how molecular processes within individual cells are coordinated across tissues to build structures. The instructors will introduce each topic through an explanatory lecture and then devote four sessions to the discussion of key papers in the field. The topics are:
1. How cytoskeletal and motor proteins create tensile forces that change cell shapes and alter tissue structures
2. How apical-basal polarity within cells contributes to the establishment and maintenance of tissue architecture
3. How cellular metabolism influences cell behaviors and differentiation
4. How these cell biological characteristics combine to influence collective cell migration
5. Students will read each paper, including the supplementary data, and be prepared to explain the logic, methods, results, and conclusions described therein. Students will participate in in-class discussions that will focus on novel findings within the papers and on questions that students propose based on their reading.
Offered AUT, 3.0 credits, Weeks 1-10, Offered even-numbered years, Will be offered in AUT 2024

MCB 522 – The Developmental Basis of Human Disease

Rapid advances in human genetics have identified a host of new genes associated with rare human genetic disorders. In many cases, the functions of these genes have already been elucidated by developmental and cell biologists working in non-human model systems. This ten-week course will explore the intimate relationship between developmental biology and human disease, including both inherited genetic disorders and cancer. Each week we will choose a different human disorder whose underlying genetic cause has been discovered. We will then discuss how the causal gene or genetic pathway controls normal animal development. The second meeting of each week will be an opportunity for students to present papers from the literature to uncover specific mechanistic links between normal developmental gene functions and disease.
Offered WIN, 3.0 credits, Weeks 1-10, Offered even-numbered years, Will be offered in WIN 2024

PATH 517 – The Biology and Pathology of Aging

The students focus on learning about aging, either centered around the hallmarks of aging or some contemporary topic in aging. Students attend or listen to prerecorded lectures, discuss the topic of the lecture in class, perform peer review of a related paper, and discuss the peer review in groups. The peer review model we use is the eLife peer review model.
Offered WIN, 3.0 credits, Weeks 1-10, Will be offered in Winter 2024

BIOL 416 – Molecular Genetics of Plant Development

The major goal of this class is to convey the excitement and challenges of doing research in the dynamic field of plant developmental biology. This class will not be a complete survey of plant development, but rather we will take an in-depth look at a few selected areas of current research. Note: Students must obtain approval from the MCB Co-Directors for this 400-level class to count toward their 18-graded credits.
Offered AUT, 3.0 credits, Weeks 1-10, Will be offered in AUT 2024

BIOL 519 – Data Science for Biologists

Explores, analyzes, and visualizes biological data sets using scientific computing software. Focuses on the foundations of data wrangling, data analysis, and statistics, particularly the development of automated techniques that are reproducible and scalable to large data sets. Automated techniques are useful for image analysis because cells/tissues change shape during development; e.g., morphometric analysis.
Offered WIN, 4.0 credits, Weeks 1-10, Not offered in WIN 2024

BIOL/FHL 536 – Evolutionary Development of Marine Invertebrates

Evolutionary Development of Marine Invertebrates will use hands-on lab experience to introduce students to the great diversity of developmental modes and processes found among marine invertebrates. The course will bridge cell and molecular approaches with ecological and evolutionary approaches to provide an integrated view of animal development. The course is intended to serve both biologists who wish to understand diversity in modes of development for ecological and evolutionary studies, and cell and developmental biologists who wish to broaden their knowledge of embryos beyond the standard model systems.
Offered SUM, 5.0 credits, Weeks 1-10, Will be offered in SUM 2024

CONJ 544 – Protein Structure, Modification and Regulation

Overview of general principles of protein structure, including forces that contribute to folding and stabilization (in week 1), followed by comparative presentation of the primary means by which protein structure and function are studied (NMR, Crystallography, CryoEM and Computational Structure Prediction and modeling) in weeks 2 through 5. The course is intended for molecular and cellular biology students without a background or ongoing research training or experience in structural analyses. The course will introduce students to the basic principles, differences and similarities between different approaches to structural analyses, and will use examples from the recent literature to learn how to evaluate and exploit such studies. Grading is based on participation, questions and answers, and a final writing assignment.
Offered WIN, 1.5 credits, Weeks 1-5, Offered odd-numbered years, Will be offered in WIN 2025

MCB 539 – Biological Basis of Neoplasia

Introduces the major themes in research in the biology of neoplastic change. Covers principle molecular mechanisms responsible for tumor initiation and progression, with a specific emphasis on intracellular signaling, DNA repair, cell cycle checkpoints, and loss of normal tissue homeostasis. The latest state of the art research in Cancer Biology will be presented by invited scientists, experts in their relevant field. The discussion meetings will concentrate on selected major papers in cancer biology and be presented and discussed by the students with help and guidance of the instructors.
Offered SPR, 3.0 credits, Weeks 1-10, Will be offered in SPR 2024

PATH 511 – Topics in Experimental Pathology: The Biology of Aging

Students listen to invited speaker lectures on aging research and review and discuss related papers. Class sessions alternate between a lecture and a literature review.
Offered SPR, 1.0 credits, Weeks 1-10


Beginnings and Endings

An 18 hour-old zebrafish embryo expressing GFP in isolated cells in the notochord and floorplate. Photo credit: Andrew Mathewson MCB ’17.

Seattle is a center for Developmental Biology research, with over sixty labs at the UW, Fred Hutch and Seattle Children’s Research Institute dedicated to understanding fundamental mechanisms of development in a range of vertebrate and invertebrate model systems. Seattle is home to the Institute for Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine (ISRCM), one of the premiere places in the world to study stem cell biology and regeneration. On the other end of the life spectrum, the University of Washington is a central hub for aging research, with the Biology of Aging program and home of a Nathan Shock Center of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging, as well as the Dog Aging Project. Seattle MCB faculty members delve deep into understanding the basic biological mechanisms that define major life transitions, from gamete to zygote to adult organism, and then from healthy young adult through old age.