Book Review

Sigrid März

Werner Müller, Monika Hassel and Maura Grealy:
Development and Reproduction in Humans and Animal Model Species.

Hardcover: 725 Pages
Publisher: Springer; 2015 edition (3 Jan. 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 366243783X
ISBN-13: 978-3662437834
€83.50 (Hardcover).

A homunculus in sperm, drawn by the Dutch mathe­matician and physicist, Nicolaas Hartsoeker, in 1695.

Heavy Development

How does development occur in embryonic life, and how do stem cells grow and differentiate in adult organisms? A heavy German text book competes with the English top dog.

Is there really so much to say about reproduction and development that one can fill a 1.8 kg whopper with trillions of details and scientific data? The authors would nod their heads vigorously, because this is exactly what they did in January 2015, calling it Development and Reproduction in Humans and Animal Model Species. And they have produced similar work before: Two of them – the German zoologists Werner Müller from Heidelberg and his Marburg-based colleague, Monika Hassel – published a 5th edition of the original German version of this English text book in 2012. Maura Grealy, lecturer at the department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the National University of Galway, Ireland, assisted them.

Is it fierce competition or a friendly compliment that the English standard book for development – “the Wolpert” (Principles of Development) – was also marketed in its 5th edition in spring 2015?

Homunculus in a sperm cell

Unsurprisingly, the books’ lists of contents are similar. One of the first pictures is even identical: The famous ‘homunculus’, that little guy in a sperm cell, which was produced by the Dutch explorer Nicolas Hartsoeker in the late 17th century. Well, a book on reproduction wouldn’t be complete without this lovely piece of ‘science’.

What do we find on the other 724 pages? Over 22 chapters, Müller, Hassel and Grealy present more than an overview of human development and reproduction, animal model organisms and developmental genetics. Starting with general knowledge, like cell division from the zygote via blastula to a multicellular embryo and symmetric versus asymmetric cell division, the text soon becomes more specialised. Besides other invertebrate model organisms like Drosophila and C. elegans, they present a primitive slime mould (Dictyostelium discoideum), which shows a complex cell cycle. Whenever these slimy little creatures starve, they meet in a ‘social behaviour’ to form aggregates (fruiting bodies), thereby allowing the species to survive whilst sacrificing several individual cells of the population.

It does not matter who you are

For the vertebrates, clawed frogs, fish and birds enter the model organism arena, crowned by the mouse as a “proxy for humans”. Ah, yes, the human being. One chapter is dedicated to ‘creation’s crowning glory’. But after a while the reader realises that humans are still mammals under the control of hormones and ATGCs. Every biology student comes across the biogenetic law of Ernst Haeckel eventually. It does not matter if you are a fish, frog, chicken, mouse or human being, in your embryo stage you look pretty much the same. We also learn about the hormonal influence of the human fertility cycle, the role of the placenta as a “mother-child-interface”, even forming mother-child-chimeras due to an “imperfect placental barrier”. In the end, the three experts raise the question of whether men will eventually become extinct.

Well, let’s see who will drag the beer crates up to the third floor in the future.

Via “pattern control” (why is a wing a wing and where does it come from?) and fancy signalling cascades we reach the (epi)genetic level and thereby automatically the potential of DNA manipulation. The famous cloned sheep, Dolly, was only the vanguard in 1996, followed by cloned pigs, rabbits, Asian water buffalos, Arabian camels, and race horses, of course. Beside this questionable trend, Müller et al. explain the importance of animal knock-out or transgenic mutants for scientific and clinical research.

When did true eyes evolve?

Last but not least, the must-have Evo-Devo (evolution of development) is included. When did the three germ layers (ecto-, endo-, mesoderm) evolve? What about bilateral symmetry, true eyes and – humans? Don’t worry, all inside!

This book is suitable for students, PhD fellows and advanced scientists. It contains general information, as well as profound details from history and current science, especially when following the extensive (50-page!) reference list. Multicoloured, quality graphics disarm complexity here and there. At times chapter headings appear offputtingly long, for example, “Human beings live 9 months under water, and during this period the unborn child has a circulatory system similar to that of a fish”.


Also annoying are the red-framed or highlighted text boxes. These should offer background knowledge in a nutshell but frequently overspill, covering up to 26 pages. Sometimes, brevity is the soul of wit. Therefore, your reviewer stops here.

Letzte Änderungen: 11.04.2016