the community site for and by developmental biologists

Building Bodies

Posted by , on 13 February 2020

Dear developmental biologists,

As editor-in-chief and executive editor of Knowable Magazine from Annual Reviews, we’re grateful for the invitation to write a post here at The Node about a special report on developmental biology — “Building Bodies” — that Knowable just published. We hope that the articles, written in accessible language, will intrigue and be of use to many of you.

Both of us started in research before taking a sideways step into journalism, and one of us (Rosie) became hooked on developmental biology early on: As a postdoc in the lab of UCLA and HHMI investigator Larry Zipursky in the late 1980s, she watched as the team there tracked down a key gene, bride-of-sevenless, involved in development of the Drosophila retina. (Her interest only grew after learning she had just one kidney, a developmental error that occurs in about one in 2,000 births.) It was a rare treat to fashion a package of dev bio articles all these years later. There were endless topics we could have chosen, and in the end we plumped for four in-depth feature articles focusing on body architecture topics:

As another part of the report, we wanted to touch on some older, key experiments in developmental biology. We considered presenting them in just that manner (“five seminal experiments,” or somesuch). But in the end, we decided to pose five questions of the kind that experimenters often had in mind when they did their work, and ones that a curious child might ask. Why is my heart more on the left? Why does my arm come out at my shoulders and not down at my waist? We’re grateful for the time and thoughts of Stanford developmental biologist Dominique Bergmann as we decided which questions to pick (there are zillions, and we had to limit them to five!) and made sure that a couple touched on newer focuses, such as the nascent field of systems developmental biology and the growing interest in timing during development.


Credit: James Provost


Anyone can republish these stories, either individually or as a package, if they follow some straightforward guidelines. We are proud of what we do, and the more eyes on our content, the happier that makes us! (Our current republishing partners include the Washington Post, Atlantic, Smithsonian and Scientific American.)

In addition, we very much hope that these stories might also prove useful as teaching aids, and with that in mind, we are preparing a PDF collection of them that are similarly free to obtain and use. Please contact Katie Fleeman ( if you are interested.

Our “Building Bodies” report only begins to touch on the myriad lines of inquiry preoccupying developmental biologists today, and we hope that it offers a taste that will delight those in the know as well as members of the public. That includes people who never knew they were interested in developmental biology before they stumbled upon an article about it. Development is a theme we’ll continue to explore in future articles, comics, Q&As and multimedia content.

Finally, a bit more about Knowable Magazine. Annual Reviews, our nonprofit parent company, is well-known as the publisher of review articles on a broad range of academic topics. Its leaders are passionate about sharing established scholarly knowledge, and Knowable, which was launched in 2017, is one prong of its effort to do so. Our work is made possible by ongoing support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, as well as initial support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. As with all of Knowable Magazine’s content, these articles are written by seasoned science journalists, many of whom got their start working in science labs as we did. The pieces are carefully fact-checked and copy-edited and are accompanied by attractive graphics — many of which are also free to re-use.

We put out new articles every week, and an easy way to see the latest is to sign up for our weekly newsletter or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.

Many thanks for reading!

Eva Emerson, editor-in-chief of Knowable Magazine (@evaemersonAR)

Rosie Mestel, executive editor (@RosieMestel)


The Node will be republishing the Knowable Building Bodies series, starting from tomorrow

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