84886 - Evo-Devo

Academic Year 2023/2024

  • Teaching Mode: Traditional lectures
  • Campus: Bologna
  • Corso: Second cycle degree programme (LM) in Biodiversity and Evolution (cod. 5824)

Learning outcomes

This course aims at providing students specific knowledge deriving from the integration of evolutionary dynamics (“Evo”) and the fundamental basis of developmental mechanisms (“Devo”), as aspects of the same process. By discussing the main topics of evolutionary developmental biology (Evo-Devo), the student will understand how this discipline is unifying and informative, enabling the formation of a scientific point of view about biological diversity that goes beyond a plain description. The student will learn to understand the processes that led to the present biodiversity by connecting the organization plan of body structures to evolutionary aspects, and in the meanwhile developing communicative abilities on such subjects. Being Evo-Devo a science at the interface between developmental biology, molecular biology, genomics, systematics, and paleontology, this course will allow to better understand mechanisms and processes of the evolutionary change, also providing dialectical tools for their disclosure.

Course contents

Evolutionary developmental biology

  • Evo-Devo
  • Role of variation
  • Genes and development: the molecular biology underlying developmental evolution
  • How development evolves
  • Constraints and evolvability
  • Evolutionary novelties, homology and body plans

Towards an extended synthesis?

  • Evolution of the evolutionary theory
  • Multidimensional adaptive landscapes
  • Theory of niche construction
  • Systems of epigenetic inheritance

Environment, development and evolution - Towards a new evolutionary synthesis

  • Epiallelic inheritance
  • Inheritance of phenotypes induced by the environment across generations
  • Phenotypic accommodation
  • Genetic accommodation
  • Genetic assimilation

Thinking about evolution by taking development on board

  • Conflicting hypotheses on the nature of mega-evolution; the phylotypic stage
  • Evo-devo’s identity: from model organisms to developmental types

Evo-devo: methods and materials

  • A pragmatic approach for selecting evo-devo model species
  • On comparisons and causes in evolutionary developmental biology

Evolving diversity

  • Different ways to construct a nematode
  • The evolution of germline specification

Interactive sessions (during the course):

  • consisting in presentations prepared and performed individually by each student and discussed with the class; they will pertain scientific articles chosen by the teacher on subjects of the course. Such presentations will grant the admission to the final oral exam at the end of the course

Other details:

  • the course does not include laboratory activity.


  • “Evolving Pathways - Key Themes in Evolutionary Developmental Biology” Edited by A. Minelli & G. Fusco University of Padova, Italy. Cambridge University Press (2008)
  • "Evoluzione. Modelli e processi" A cura di M. Ferraguti & C. Castellacci. Pearson (2011)
  • "Eco-Devo. Ambiente e Biologia dello Sviluppo" S.F. Gilbert & D. Epel. Piccin (2018)
  • "Perspectives on Evolutionary and Developmental Biology" Edited by G. Fusco. Padova University Press (2019) The book is open access and freely dowlodable at: http://www.padovauniversitypress.it/publications/9788869381409
  • The presentations used during the course by the teacher and the papers presented and discussed with the class are required material and will be available on Virtuale.

Teaching methods

  • Lectures and interactive sessions consisting in individual presentations by each student and following discussions with the class
  • The attendance to the lectures allows to participate in the discussions with the class, activity that is necessary to be admitted to the final oral exam.

Assessment methods

An oral exam at the end of the course. The student will be evaluated on each topic discussed during the course. The evaluation will be intended to understand the knowledge, synthesis ability, and critical thinking acquired during the course. NO supporting tool can be used during the final oral exam.

Teaching tools

Slides, online contents.

Office hours

See the website of Liliana Milani


Life on land

This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.