Top image

EMBL Forum Lectures

Benny Shilo

Thursday, 6 September 2012, 16:00, Large Operon, EMBL Heidelberg

Benny Shilo, Dept. of Molecular Genetics, Weizmann Institute, Rehovot, Israel

Egg to organism: Visualizing the concepts of development


The field of Developmental Biology has undergone a dramatic revolution over the past three decades, leading to a global understanding of the principles and molecules that guide embryonic development of all multi-cellular organisms. These discoveries have far-reaching implications on the future of regenerative medicine that will impact every person. The challenge is to devise new ways to effectively convey the principles of Developmental Biology to a broad audience.

The essence of embryonic development is the ability of cells to follow rules - dictated by the genome - that determine the final fate and shape of each cell. A variety of human social situations may resemble such interactions. By creating a dialogue between scientific pictures and images from our human world that serve as metaphors and exemplify each of the paradigms, a new visual way to present the concepts of Developmental Biology to the general public was devised. The cross talk between the two worlds should resonate with the personal experiences of the viewer, to generate a new type of understanding.

How is embryonic complexity generated? Variations on a repeated modular unit.


Distinct structures can be generated along the body, without a need to invent each one from scratch. Rather, the body of both vertebrates and invertebrates is initially divided into repeated units that are identical. Subsequently, variations in gene expression in each of the segments, according to its position along the body axis, will create a diversity of structures. Top- fruit-fly larva showing a subtle variation in the structure of nerves (green), connecting to the muscles (blue) in each segment (R. Sowade, B. Göllner and C. Klaembt); bottom- women weeding a field. While all appear similar in custom and activity, variations in dress color and body pose are apparent (Rajasthan, India).


Benny Shilo is a professor of molecular genetics at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. He is fascinated by processes of embryonic development, which are mediated and dictated by molecular communication between cells. His lab has uncovered key signaling pathways that are conserved in all multicellular organisms.

Shilo’s current work focuses on ways in which these communication pathways are integrated within the cellular milieu, and on computational approaches to understanding the generation of robust and reproducible patterns. Benny Shilo earned his BSc and PhD degrees from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and carried out his postdoctoral training at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He established a research group at the Weizmann Institute, where he has also served as head of the Department of Molecular Genetics, chair of the Council of Professors, and dean of Biochemistry.

During 2011/12 Shilo was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, where he developed a new way of presenting Developmental Biology to the broad public.