The development from a single fertilized egg cell to a fully grown organism is controlled by the genome. In spite of the remarkable similarity of gene number and gene sequences between species as different as flies, mice, and humans, these species differ greatly in their body plan, shapes, and sizes. We want to understand the genetic control of development and how diversity is generated. By making use of the powerful genetic tools available in Drosophila, we have been identifying genes that control developmental processes such as the specification photoreceptor cell fate or the control of cell and body size. While genetics permits identification of key genes in a developmental process, it is more difficult to obtain all the components of an entire cellular network. At the Institute of Molecular Systems Biology we team up with experts in proteomics to complete our genetic networks and with modeling specialists to obtain a more complete understanding of development and diversity.
Biology as a discipline as been changing rapidly from a largely descriptive discipline at the beginning of the 20ties century to a molecular science in which basic concept of evolution and cellular biology have been uncovered towards the end of the 20ies century. Presently biology is undergoing another revolution from a largely qualitative to a increasingly quantitative discipline that relies on methods from physics, mathematics and computer science. This new biological understanding affects society as a whole since it triggers changes in how we view health, disease, nutrition, agriculture and the environment. These changes pose specific challenges on teaching biology. Curricula have to be constantly adapted to new concepts and technologies that dramatically change not only science but also society. For example, ten years ago sequencing the human genome cost $ 100 Mio, today the costs are close to $ 1000. DNA sequencing is becoming a universal diagnostic tool and is already used for stratifying cancer patients and to determine Down's syndrome in fetuses.
In addition to participating in teaching of undergraduates, graduate students and prospective biology teachers we have embarked on a project in Discipline Based Education Research in biology. We are part of the ETH Doctoral Program in Education Research and study how high school and university students understand basic concepts in biology.