2013 AAA Plenary Sessions

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Evolutionary/Developmental Biology

Sunday, April 21, 2013 - 8:00am - 10:00am

Cliff Tabin (Harvard Medical School)
Evolution of Vertebrate Limb Morphology

Neil Shubin (University of Chicago)
Fossils, Genes, and the Origin of Organs

Nipam Patel (University of California, Berkeley)
The Evolution of Arthropod Appendages

Co-sponsored by the AAA Fellows Legacy Fund


John Fallon (Univ. of Wisconsin)
Gary Schoenwolf (Univ. of Utah)

Cliff Tabin
Neil Shubin
Nipam Patel

The limbs of the animals that populate the earth show astonishing anatomical and functional diversity. Naturalists, embryologists, developmental biologists and evolutionary biologists noted this. The situation became further intriguing and challenging when molecular biologists and geneticists discovered that essentially the same menu of genes are expressed during the development of all animal limbs. But no one would mistake an insect wing for a fish fin, or for a primate forelimb. The discipline of Evolutionary Developmental Biology has made great progress in elucidating the developmental and genetic mechanisms that control unique cellular gene expression, migration, proliferation and death that result in the wondrous anatomy and function of animal limbs. Our speakers are among the leaders in the field:


  • Clifford Tabin - Dr. Clifford Tabin received his A.B. in Physics from the University of Chicago in 1976. He obtained his Ph.D. in Biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1984, where he made one of the first retroviral vectors and also first identified the activating mutation in the ras oncogene, in the laboratory of Robert Weinberg. Dr. Tabin began his work in developmental biology during a brief postdoc in the laboratory of Doug Melton at Harvard University, before leaving a year later for a position as an independent Fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital.   There he began studying limb regeneration and development in an effort to bring modern molecular tools to classical embryological systems, work he continued when he joined the faculty of the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School in 1989. His lab is responsible for the first use of retroviral vectors for gene transfer into developing chick embryos, opening that system for genetic manipulations. Focusing on the genetic basis of pattern formation and morphogenesis, his lab has worked on a range of developmental problems, including contributions to our understanding of limb development, the isolation of Sonic hedgehog as a key developmental morphogen, and the discovery of the first genes involved in regulating left-right asymmetry in the embryo.  He has also examined the way developmental pathways are modulated through evolution to produce different morphologies such as in the generation of distinct beaks in different species of Darwin’s Finches and in the evolution of cave fish.  In addition to his research program, Dr. Tabin heads an international effort to establish a medical school in Kathmandu geared towards training physicians to serve the needs of the rural poor of Nepal.   Dr. Tabin is the Chairman of the Department of Genetics at Harvard.
  • Neil Shubin - professor of Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago, is widely celebrated for discovering the fossil fish Tiktaalik roseae, dubbed the “missing link” between fish and land animals. His research focuses on the evolution of limbs, and he uses his diverse fossil findings to determine how anatomical transformations have occurred throughout the ages. His book, Your Inner Fish: A Journey Through the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body, was published in January 2008 and is now available in paperback. His research on anatomical features of animals has taken him all over the world—he has conducted fieldwork in Greenland, China, Canada, much of North America and Africa. Demand from audiences clamoring to hear the story behind his discovery has led him to speak at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, Indiana University South Bend, and the University of Tulsa among others. In addition to his speaking, he has published multiple articles in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleobiology,  Science and Nature. A John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellow, Shubin earned a Ph.D. in organismic and evolutionary biology from Harvard University in 1987 and joined the University faculty as Chairman of Organismal Biology & Anatomy in 2001.
  • Nipam Patel - My research program centers on the study of the evolution of development mechanisms with a focus on the genes that regulate segmentation and regionalization of the body plan. We are particularly interested in understanding how certain steps in patterns formation that require protein diffusion in Drosophila are accomplished in those insects and crustaceans in which cellularization of the growing embryos would seem to preclude formation of gradients by diffusion. We have also begun to investigate the role of homeotic genes in generating body plan diversification in crustaceans. Another major area of research in the lab centers on investigating the function of the Drosophila segmentation genes during neuronal development and understanding how these genes may have contributed to the evolution of neural complexity.



Cell Biology

Sunday, April 21, 2013 - 10:30am - 12:30pm

W. James Nelson (Stanford University)
Structural and Functional Evolution of Epithelia and Cell-cell Adhesion Complexes

Sandra Schmid (UT Southwestern Medical Center)
Regulation of Early Stages in Clathrin Mediated Endocytosis Revealed by Quantitative Analyses in Living Cells



Kathy Svoboda (Baylor College of Dentistry)
Carol Gregorio (Univ. of Arizona School of Medicine)

W. James Nelson
Sandra Schmid

The cell biology session will focus on two basic functions in cells: adhesion and endocytosis.  Dr. Nelson will discuss the evolutionary biochemical mechanisms involved in epithelial organization, which requires cadherin-catenin cell adhesion complexes that adhere cells together and organize the interior actin cytoskeleton. Dr. Schmid will discuss the mechanisms required for clathrin mediated endocytosis. In particular she will discuss new approaches using total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy (TI-FM) for live cell imaging, particle detection and tracking that enable accurate and global analyses of clathrin coated pit dynamics. She will show the striking phenotypes resulting from the expression of mutant AP2 adaptors that could not previously be detected using conventional biochemical assays.

Anatomical Sciences Education: The Future

Monday, April 22, 2013 - 8:00am - 10:00am

Frederic W. Hafferty Ph.D. (Mayo Clinic)
Anatomy as a Garden of Educational Delights: Medical Education, Professional Formation, and the Hidden Curriculum

David Hirsh (Harvard Medical School)
Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship Training as a Model for Basic Science Education



Richard Drake (Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine)
Wojciech Pawlina (Mayo Clinic College of Medicine)

Frederic W. Hafferty
David Hirsh

This plenary session will stimulate the anatomical sciences educator to look into the future.  Can approaches developed in our educational programs become curricular pillars of the future?  Similarly, educational activities used in other parts of the medical school curriculum could have a profound impact on our discipline if we recognize their potential.  In this session two speakers, Frederick Hafferty from Mayo Clinic and David Hirsh from Harvard Medical School, will challenge you to move your thinking in new directions.

Paleontology and Functional Anatomy

Monday, April 22, 2013 - 10:30am - 12:30pm

Lawrence M. Witmer, Ph.D. (Ohio University)
The Visible Interactive Dinosaur Project: Fleshing Out Dinosaur Head Anatomy and Function with Advanced 3D Imaging

Carol Ward (University of Missouri)
The Evolution of Human Anatomy and Locomotion

Matt Ravosa (University of Notre Dame)
Integrative Experimental Approaches to Adaptive Interpretations of the Fossil Record



Jeffrey Laitman (Mount Sinai School of Medicine)
Jason Organ (Indiana University School of Medicine)

Lawrence Witmer
Carol Ward
Matt Ravosa

The fields of paleontology and functional anatomy have long histories in our association. Indeed, our first president, Joseph Leidy, was an esteemed paleontologist and anatomist at the University of Pennsylvania. As these sciences have matured, so have the depth of questions one can answer using the fossil record. This session will celebrate the evolution of these sciences from comparative and descriptive in nature to experimental and will highlight how the science has adapted to incorporate modern technology and perspective to illuminate the past, while lighting the way for the future.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013 - 8:00am - 10:00am

Jeff Lichtman (Harvard University)
Imaging the Connectome

Javier deFelipe (Cajal Institute)
From the Connectome to the Synaptome



Kathryn Jones (Indiana University School of Medicine)
Jose Luis Trejo (Cajal Institute)

Jeff Lichtman
Javier deFelipe

The elaboration of wiring maps in the nervous system is one of the most impressive examples of how the necessity (to know the connectional diagram of the brain) have effectively found in the development of frontier technologies, the keystone to advance our understanding of the brain structure. This is an essential step to deepen our knowledge of how brain works. The neuroscientists of this Plenary represent the best examples of the efforts to carry out the construction of a wide circuit matrix of the brain at different scales of observation. Connectome and synaptosome undoubtedly constitute two of the next frontiers of knowledge to be addressed.

Imaging Modalities

Tuesday, April 23, 2013 - 10:30am - 12:30pm

Scott Fraser (University of Southern California)
Imaging the Cellular Dynamics and Signals that Pattern Embryos

Nadine Peyrieras (CNRS-NED Institut de Neurobiologie)
Recording and Statistical Analysis of Early Zebrafish Developmental Patterns Using In Vivo Multiphoton Microscopy

Charles Little (Kansas University Medical Center)
Integrating Cell and Tissue Motion Patterns during Early Embryogenesis: How Much “Cell Migration” Really Occurs?



Kurt Albertine (University of Utah School of Medicine)
Charles Little (Kansas University Medical School)

Scott Fraser
Nadine Peyriéras
Charles Little

Embryology is now entering a third “golden era.” One hundred and twenty-five years ago, embryology blossomed as the field entered an epoch of remarkable imaging discoveries that catalogued the breadth and diversity of developmental morphogenesis. This was followed by an amazing period of productivity when the powerful reductionistic tools of molecular biology were used to define signals and responses to signals.  We are now ready to harvest the fruits of these earlier efforts and enter the age of mechanistic understanding. The combination of anatomic scale data sets with modern in vivo imaging tools and powerful computers makes it possible to define the cellular and tissue dynamics that pattern embryos. By merging biology, math, and physics, research groups worldwide are finally beginning to answer the question — what are the forces that shape the embryo?

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