SDB History (continued)

Pattern formation and morphogenetic movement are in good hands since they can be studied in genetic organisms. However, organogenesis of interesting organs, especially those of vertebrates, cannot be studied in traditional genetic organisms. Will the genetics of Zebrafish or mouse ever duplicate the precision and detail that genetics of Drosophila and Caenorhabditis elegans provide? I doubt it. We need new methods that circumvent traditional genetics if we want to study many complex developmental phenomena that simply do not exist in these genetic organisms. How about regeneration, the immune system, organogenesis of kidney, liver, lung, bone, skin, and intestine, or the vertebrate brain? Is Arabidopsis a model for all of the major systems that interest us in plants? If so, then plant research is in much better shape than animal research.

We must develop new methods to assay gene function on non-genetic organisms. Currently, we rely on transfection or transformation methods which have variable success depending upon the system. A reliable method that delivers genes to the nuclei of living, developing embryos is essential to complete the process of circumventing traditional genetics. There is high hope for genetic knockout and replacement in mice. However, this method is a long way from replacing the traditional genetic screen. Currently, the most efficient way to determine function is a computer search for a related DNA sequence in the database.

1981 Symposium Participants

1982 Symposium Participants

The most exciting discoveries reported each week in leading journals are likely to be in developmental biology. Developmental biology, the beneficiary of cross-fertilization, must now consider what it can teach others. This may sound arrogant but it is the historical way that science advances. Basic scientists invented genetic medicine, a field that barely existed when I was a medical student. They revolutionized immunology. They are having their impact in the neurosciences. There is not a field of medical research that will not gain by the application of methods we have come to view as ordinary. Let us begin to consider some of the great problems that to date have only concerned the pediatricians, obstetricians, and gynecologists. Let us see if we can give these fields the excitement and urgency that now surrounds medical genetics. This will be a major challenge for developmental biologists in the coming 50 years.

What Jane Oppenheimer decided had come to pass 25 years ago has in fact happened in the past 10 years. The boundaries and barriers of fields and disciplines have disappeared, and we can now just call ourselves biologists and use any method that works to solve our particular question. This revolution occurred for a very mundane reason--the advance of methods. What now characterizes us as developmental biologists, neurobiologists, immunologists, or whatever, is simply the question we ask, because we are all likely to use the same methods.

This revolution in methods has especially liberated developmental biologists, who ask certain questions but rely on the methods generated by other fields and disciplines. The freedom allows us to concentrate on the unanswered questions posed by Boveri and others. Not surprisingly, the titles of the sessions at the 50th Symposium were not so different from those presented at the 25th Symposium that was entitled "Major Problems in Developmental Biology," but what a difference in the scientific methods applied to these problems.

-Compiled by Marnie Halpern for SDB's 60th anniversary (2001)

Last Updated on 01/12/2015