BMS 351 Gametes, Embryos and Stem Cells (10 credits)

Module Co-ordinator: Professor Harry Moore

 Aims and objectives

Synopsis This course will examine: The cellular and molecular biology of mammalian gametes, early embryos and stem cells with the emphasis on human reproduction.

The biotechnology associated with the manipulation of gametes and embryos for assisting or regulating reproduction, for derivation of stem cells and for genetic manipulation of mammals.

Experimental approaches for understanding gamete and embryo function.


The course will begin with a general introduction to the subject and will discuss historical developments and the underlying concepts of germ cell renewal and endocrine/paracrine feedback mechanisms. The initial focus will be on the mature gametes (sperm and egg) and the mechanisms of fertilisation. The various cell recognition events will be discussed along with the activation of the cell cycle. Pre-implantation embryo development will be examined with respect to expression of the maternal or paternal genome and the role of genomic imprinting. Genetic diagnosis of the pre-implantation embryo will be described. The features of embryo implantation will be discussed in terms of maternal-foetal dialogue; the concept of the foetus as an allograft will be introduced. The development of germ cells into mature sperm and ova will be discussed along with the experimental details of in vitro techniques. 

The middle part of the course will focus on the biotechnology associated with gametes and embryos. This will include an examination of assisted conception techniques with examples of clinical investigations of human infertility; artificial breeding in animals and the cryopreservation of germ tissue; transgenic techniques and cloning technology. There will be a debate on an aspect of the ethical and moral issues raised by reproductive technology. 

The final part of the course will examine genetic and cellular sexual determination and differentiation. Fertility control methods at present and into the future will be surveyed. The effects of environmental and industrial toxicants on mammalian fertility will be discussed. 

Learning objectives


By the end of the course you should be able to:

  • demonstrate a detailed understanding of mammalian gamete and early embryonic development.
  • demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the manipulation of mammalian gametes and embryos and the associated technology.
  • acquire,use and evaluate subject-related information using literature recommended in the reading list provided.

By the end of the course you should be able to:

  • give an account of cellular and molecular attributes of mature gametes
  • understand the concepts of toti- and pluri- potent  stem cells
  • explain genomic imprinting and influence this process may have on development
  • discuss embryo implantation and the materno-foetal dialogue
  • describe techniques of genetic diagnosis of the pre-implantation embryo
  • understand the process of spermatogenesis and its molecular regulation
  • explain the process of sperm maturation and factors influencing the quality of semen
  • understand oogenesis and factors regulating this process
  • describe techniques for assisting human conception and for animal breeding
  • evaluate simple clinical investigations of infertility
  • explain the various methods for producing transgenic mammals
  • understanding the principles and techniques on cloning mammals
  • appreciate the moral and ethical issues surrounding reproductive technology
  • explain the genetic, cellular and morphology processes of sexual determination - and differentiation and provide examples of abnormal development
  • explain the various approaches for fertility regulation
  • outline the effects that environmental toxicants may have on reproduction in mammals

Teaching Methods

The contents of the course will be delivered by means of 18 lectures. At the beginning of the course students will be supplied with a copy of the course objectives which they will be referred to at appropriate points throughout the lecture course. Where appropriate at the beginning of each lecture, students will receive a handout containing the lecture outline, brief notes, diagrams and references. A copy of powerpoint presentation of the lecture will be available online.  It is expected that each student will spend approximately 9 h /week a) reading over and collating notes with reference to recommended references; b) mark off specific learning objectives when these have been achieved. It will be up to the student to monitor his/her progress in fulfilling these objectives. 

Self assessment

Students will be set practice assays and receive feedback in the form of example answers. Previous exam papers will be available.

Course assessment

The course will be assessed in the form of essay questions based on the specific learning outcomes supplied to the student.

Reading list Specific references will be given for each lecture. 

General textbooks include:

Essential Reproduction - Johnson M.H. and Everitt B.J. Blackwell Science.

Developmental Biology -Gilbert, S.F. (1994) Sinauer Associates, Mass USA. Human Embryology - Larsen, W. Churchill livingstone.