SITE VISIT: Web Gives Embryology Texts Room to Grow

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Science  01 Jan 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5398, pp. 7
DOI: 10.1126/science.283.5398.7d

“They'll have to rewrite the textbooks,” goes the saying whenever a breakthrough overturns prevailing wisdom. That adage may be on the way out—if the Web continues to transform teaching the way that two sites are changing the rules for college developmental biology classes.

A desire to bring important new papers to students' attention was one incentive for creating Zygote, says Scott Gilbert, a Swarthmore College professor who uses the site to complement his textbook. Written mostly by Gilbert and his students, Zygote is more like a “museum exhibit” than a book, he says: Dozens of one-sentence descriptions lead to summaries from a paragraph to several pages long. Ranging from a 1995 interview with geneticist Salmone Gluecksohn-Waelsch (complete with video clip) to a write-up on limb bud initiation, the site also draws researchers who want to keep up on new studies, Gilbert says.

If Zygote offers tasty hors d'oeuvres, then a full-course meal is served up by the Virtual Embryo, nurtured by Leon Browder of the University of Calgary in Canada. Browder says he no longer requires that his students buy a textbook, because his site covers the basics from spermatogenesis to apoptosis. These modules are loaded with outside links, including Web tutorials at other universities on everything from chicks to frogs. Virtual Embryo also offers links for researchers, including journals, sites on model organisms, and molecular biology databases.

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