Abstract: Series 109, Lecture 1

The Harvey Lectures Series 109 (2013—2014)

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Lecture #1: Thursday, October 10, 2013 — Watch Video of Lecture

The Development and Evolution of Vertebrate Morphology

Clifford J Tabin, PhD

Clifford J Tabin, PhD

George Jacob and Jacqueline Hazel Leder Professor
Chair, Department of Genetics

Harvard Medical School

Boston, Massachusetts

Dr Tabin's Website

For the last 25 years we have been interested understanding how the organization, form and structure of the body is encoded in our genes; exploring the emergence of morphology both during vertebrate embryogenesis and in evolutionary space where changes in developmental programs have given rise to the extraordinary variety if life we see around us.

The laboratory takes advantage of the complementary strengths of two model systems, the developing mouse and chicken embryos. The mouse offers powerful genetic techniques for precisely altering gene regulation, while the chick embryo is directly accessible for both surgical experiments, live imaging and genetic manipulations with viral vectors. Long term efforts were directed towards understanding limb development: the establishment of the initial axes, to understanding the difference in genetic controls between an arm and a leg, through differential bone growth and specific muscle patterning and the establishment of left-right asymmetry (e.g.. the breaking of symmetry in the early embryo, through signaling cascades). Recent work has tried to tie together different levels of control that are integrated in directing morphogenesis: gradients of morphogens, physical forces exerted within the developing embryo and stem cell specification.

In studying the evolutionary changes in developmental regulation that has generated the diversity of animal forms, we have developed and utilized a number of non-traditional animal systems. Studies include genes underlying the differences in beak shape among Darwin’s Finches, modifications to the hind limb to allow hopping in desert rodents, genetic changes underlying the differences between fish that live in caves versus open rivers, and genes that differentiate humans from apes.