The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 47: 183 - 187 (2003)

Vol 47, Issue 2-3

Special Issue: Teaching Developmental Biology

Reverse engineering the embryo: a graduate course in developmental biology for engineering students at the University of Manitoba, Canada

Published: 1 January 2003

Richard Gordon and Cameron A Melvin

Department of Radiology, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada.


Our desire to educate engineers to be able to understand the component processes of embryogenesis, is driven by the notion that only when principles borrowed from mathematics, fluid mechanics, materials science, etc. are applied to classical problems in developmental biology, will sufficient comprehension be achieved to permit successful understanding and therapeutic manipulation of embryos. As it now stands, biologists seldom possess either skills or interest in those areas of endeavor. Thus, we have determined that it is easier to educate engineers in the principles of developmental biology than to help biologists deal with the complexities of engineering. We describe a graduate course that has been taken, between 1999 and 2002, by 17 engineering students. Our goal is to prepare them to reverse engineer the embryo, i.e., to look at it as an object or process whose construction, albeit self-construction, might be explicable in terms of engineering principles applied at molecular, cellular and whole embryo levels.

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