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Development and Evolution


Admission requirements

This course can be attended by first or second year MSc students


This course focuses on the field of evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo). The aim is to understand how genetic changes in development lead to novel morphologies in evolution. The unique contributions of three leading evo-devo researchers (Michael Richardson, expert on vertebrate evo-devo; Maurijn van der Zee, expert on invertebrate evo-devo; and Barbara Gravendeel, expert on plant evo-devo) make this an internationally attractive and high level course. The course starts with the current state of evolutionary theory. Potentially new additions to the Modern Synthesis and their implications for evolutionary theory will be discussed. We will treat subjects like epigenetic inheritance, group selection and the role of behavior. In the second week, we will focus on development and discuss phenomena like developmental constraints, developmental bias and regulatory evolution. We will read and discuss cutting-edge papers from the field of both vertebrate and invertebrate evolutionary developmental biology. The third week is entirely dedicated to the evolution and development of plants. This week will have contributions from the natural history museum Naturalis and from the developmental genetics department at the IBL.
This course provides an excellent basis for MSc-research projects on various topics in evo-devo, both at IBL and Naturalis Biodiversity Center.

Course objectives

After completion of the course, students are able to:  

  • Adequately formulate how novel concepts and ideas affect evolutionary theory.

  • Explain how genetic changes in development lead to novel morphologies.

  • Analyse and discuss modern experimental scientific papers on evolutionary developmental biology.

  • Compose and write a coherent essay.


You will find the timetables for all courses and degree programmes of Leiden University in the tool MyTimetable (login). Any teaching activities that you have sucessfully registered for in MyStudyMap will automatically be displayed in MyTimeTable. Any timetables that you add manually, will be saved and automatically displayed the next time you sign in.

MyTimetable allows you to integrate your timetable with your calendar apps such as Outlook, Google Calendar, Apple Calendar and other calendar apps on your smartphone. Any timetable changes will be automatically synced with your calendar. If you wish, you can also receive an email notification of the change. You can turn notifications on in ‘Settings’ (after login).

For more information, watch the video or go the the 'help-page' in MyTimetable. Please note: Joint Degree students Leiden/Delft have to merge their two different timetables into one. This video explains how to do this.

Mode of instruction

Lectures Every day, introductory lectures will be given to the subject. This will help you putting the papers into context.

Reading papers Every day, you will read recent papers on evolutionary developmental biology. These papers include primary research as well as reviews and essays. On some days, you will be asked to collect arguments to support or oppose certain views.

Perusall You will read some papers using the online platform Perusall. On this platform, you can help each other understanding the paper, comment, and discuss in small groups. Your contributions will be evaluated for your final mark.

Discussions We will discuss novel concepts and ideas and their influence on evolutionary theory. To encourage discussion, you will sometimes be divided into groups that should support or oppose a certain view. Your participation and contribution will be evaluated for your final mark.

At the end of the last week, you have to submit an essay through blackboardBrightspace. The essay should be chosen from a provided list of titles. Based on your top 3 preferences, titles will be allocated in such a way that not all students will write on an identical subject. The topics are covered in the lectures of the course. The essay should be submitted in electronic format. It should be no more than 1500 words excluding references. Your essay will be judged on the following points:

  1. Correct use of key terminology
  2. Structure (logical flow of the argument?)
  3. Language (correct? understandable? professional?)
  4. Overview (Did you cover a broad area?)
  5. Depth (did you understand the biological/molecular details?)
  6. Own input (did you simply reproduce the lectures, or did you find new content?)

Assessment method

Your final grade is composed of:

  • Your participation in and contribution to the (online) discussions (30%)

  • Your final essay (70%)

Minimum grades are 5.6 to pass

Reading list

Reviews and research articles. Pdf’s will be posted on Brightspace.


From the academic year 2022-2023 on every student has to register for courses with the new enrollment tool MyStudyMap. There are two registration periods per year: registration for the fall semester opens in July and registration for the spring semester opens in December. Please see this page for more information.

Please note that it is compulsory to both preregister and confirm your participation for every exam and retake. Not being registered for a course means that you are not allowed to participate in the final exam of the course. Confirming your exam participation is possible until ten days before the exam.

Extensive FAQ's on MyStudymap can be found here.


Coordinator: Dr. M. v.d. Zee


Maximum 40 students
If you cannot register please email to so we can put you on the waiting list.

Inspection and feedback on the examination
Date: Weekly evaluations of your performance on Perusall and in live discussions will be given through Brightspace, and can be discussed with the course coordinator throughout the course. Individual feedback on your essay will be provided through Turnitin or email by December 4th. If desired, individual appointments with your mentor can be made to discuss the evaluation of your essay.