The study of development in the embryo has directly informed the differentiation of stem and progenitor cells in a dish, and conversely, the discovery of induced pluripotency has inspired manipulations of cell fates within organisms. However, a significant barrier remains between basic science and the translation to therapies in regenerative medicine. In order to stimulate more developmental biologists to tackle clinically relevant problems, we organized the 2014 Santa Cruz Developmental Biology meeting around the theme, “Frontiers of development: basic meets translation”. The scientific content was diverse and included new and evolving areas of inquiry and approaches. The juxtaposition of translational talks with basic science was provocative; for example, our first keynote session featured new mechanisms of repressing gene transcription in stem cells of fly, generating models of diabetes in human stem cells using emerging genome editing techniques, and reprogramming of resident support cells in the heart to heart muscle cells using gene hierarchies gleaned from the study of mouse development. These talks exemplified the application of basic science teachings toward clinical research; conversely, other talks demonstrated how studying disease models in mice and zebrafish lead to new insights on fundamental biological mechanisms.
The meeting was organized into the following themes: Development and Cancer; Cell polarity; Systems approaches to Development; Metabolism and Development; Cell interactions; and Development and Disease. Highlights included a bioinformatics method for analyzing expression in serial sections of human neocortex, mathematical modeling of stem cell fate determination in plants, a zebrafish model for scoliosis, surprising specialization of machinery of protein translation in development, competition between cells in early development, live imaging of the skin stem cell niche, and a novel mechanism in evolution by which pigment is produced by protein structure. An important theme was the application of modeling and quantitative imaging to developmental systems. The meeting program accomplished the initial objectives of 1) representing the research spectrum of developmental biology by contrasting mechanistic investigations with applications; 2) increasing interactions between basic and more clinically orientated scientists and cross-fertilization of ideas; 3) educating the conferees about the latest advances and visions in the field through the dissemination and discussion of current data; 4) facilitating scientific networking within the developmental and stem cell biology community to stimulate the development of young scientists and promote collaborations; and 5) providing the opportunities for all genders and minorities to be recognized in the fields of developmental biology, including 3 poster prizes, 10 need-based trainee scholarships, and a promising new junior faculty member who was recognized with a Young Investigator Award.