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Developmental Systems and Stem Cell Biology (Cluster)

Developmental biology is an integrative discipline, and pioneering discoveries in this field have transformed the face of modern biological research. Landmark contributions include understanding the genetic basis of embryonic pattern and it conservation from flies to humans (1995 Nobel Prize), the mechanisms and importance of programmed cell death (2002 Nobel Prize), the underpinnings of aging and longevity, and the importance of cell and tissue polarity. It is also the origins of the field of stem cell biology (2007 Nobel Prize). Developmental model organisms have played a key role in dissecting major signaling pathways and uncovering the mechanisms controlling gene regulation, which create a foundation for understanding human health and disease, including cancer, birth defects and obesity. Developmental studies led to the discovery of RNA interference and microRNAs (2006 Nobel Prize), and they have provided fertile ground for the emerging disciplines of genomics and systems biology.

Research in the Developmental Systems and Stem Cell Biology Training Cluster is broadly focused on the complex processes regulating multicellular organisms over developmental time scales. Participating faculty members are drawn from numerous departments across Northwestern and have expertise in experimental biology, cutting edge cell biology, genomics, systems approaches and network modeling. Ongoing efforts are aimed at understanding the conserved mechanisms and principles that govern body patterning, embryonic growth and organ development, how stem cells contribute to regenerative growth, and how the misregulation of developmental processes leads to diseases such as cancer. Cluster faculty have expertise across a broad swath of model systems including planaria, c. elegans, Drosophila, Xenopus, zebrafish, chicken and mouse, all of which provide distinct experimental advantages for addressing developmental questions.

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The cluster catalyzes interactions between faculty and students that cross both geographic and disciplinary boundaries in order to help trainees pursue research directions that are creative, powerful, and innovative, as well as to nurture interdisciplinary collaborations that enhance research and training.

Students in the Developmental Systems and Stem Cell Biology Cluster benefit from specialized training from a highly accomplished faculty. Cluster programmatic activities include formal and informal (“special topics”) course work, journal clubs, and a literature based “technologies” club. A quarterly cluster meeting/mini symposium that includes scientific talks and poster presentations bring faculty and trainees together in a dynamic and interactive forum.