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What is Developmental Biology?

By Karize Uy
Updated May 17, 2024
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Developmental biology is a branch of science that explores how organisms develop and progress. Different levels of biology are studied, from the molecular and cellular level, to tissue or systems levels of the anatomy. This scientific field overlaps with other fields such as biochemistry, molecular biology, biotechnology, evolutionary biology, and genetics.

Among its many areas of interest, development biology is said to have three primary subjects: cell growth, cellular differentiation, and morphogenesis. Cell growth refers to the process in which an organism’s cellular structure develops. Studying cell growth helps scientists learn the process of cell division, in which a singular cell splits and creates two cells, and the two cells repeats the process. Aside from the growth itself, scientists can also observe how the cells control and end their growth when the cellular population is adequate. Studying cell growth is an important part of cancer research, as cancer can be caused by an absence of growth control in the cells.

Studying cellular differentiation is also important in developmental biology because it helps scientists understand how cells develop into specialized types. A singular cell divides and reproduces daughter cells that are functionally different from their mother cell, creating a complex organism that contains a diversity of cells. While the process can be observed, how the cells are programmed to undergo the process is not yet fully determined. Even so, cellular differentiation is an important aspect in stem-cell research, because stem cells have the ability to indefinitely reproduce specialized cells and possibly cure many diseases.

Developmental biology also delves into the process of morphogenesis, which refers to how an organism takes shape from the inside out. After undergoing differentiation, the cells would group together with other similarly-typed cells. Cells are also usually programmed to move in a limited location, according to their associations with other cells. Cancer researchers also benefit from studying morphogenesis, because the process also applies to malignant cells that compress together to form a tumor.

The field of developmental biology also studies other processes such as embryonal development, regeneration in reptiles like salamanders and lizards, and metamorphosis in caterpillars. Figuring out how a normal cell can develop would then help scientists understand the reason why some cells deviate from the normal process and become destructive cells. Developmental biology also sheds some light on the occurrences of chromosomal mutations, such as in cleft palates, Down syndrome, and autism. All this knowledge would, in turn, help scientists discover treatments for many disorders.

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