(b. Oct. 20, 1942, Magdeburg, Ger.)
The German developmental geneticist Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard was jointly awarded the 1995 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with geneti-cists Eric F. Wieschaus and Edward B. Lewis for their research concerning the mechanisms of early embryonic development.
Nüsslein-Volhard, working in tandem with Wieschaus, expanded upon the pioneering work of Lewis, who used the fruit ﬂy, or vinegar ﬂy (Drosophila melano-gaster), as an experimental subject.
Her work has relevance to the development of all multicellular organisms, includ-ing humans.At Eberhard-Karl University of Tübingen, Nüsslein-Volhard received a diploma in biochemistry in 1968 and a doctorate in genetics in 1973.
After holding fellowships in Basel and Freiburg, she joined Wieschaus as a group leader at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg in 1978. In 1981 she returned to Tübingen, where, in 1985, she became director of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology.
At Heidelberg, Nüsslein-Volhard and Wieschaus spent more than a year crossbreeding 40,000 fruit ﬂy families and systematically examining their genetic makeup at a dual microscope.
Their trial-and-error methods resulted in the discovery that of the ﬂy’s 20,000 genes, about 5,000 are deemed important to early development and about 140 are essential.
They assigned responsibility for the fruit ﬂy’s embryonic development to three genetic categories: gap genes, which lay out the head-to-tail body plan; pair-rule genes, which determine body segmentation; and segment-polarity genes, which establish repeating structures within each segment.
In the early 1990s Nüsslein-Volhard began studying genes that control development in the zebra ﬁsh Danio rerio. These organisms are ideal models for investiga-tions into developmental biology because they have clear embryos, have a rapid rate of reproduction, and are closely related to other vertebrates.
Nüsslein-Volhard studied the migration of cells from their sites of origin to their sites of destination within zebra ﬁsh embryos. Her investigations in zebra ﬁsh have helped elucidate genes and other cellular substances involved in human develop-ment and in the regulation of normal human physiology.
In addition to the Nobel Prize, Nüsslein-Volhard received the Leibniz Prize (1986) and the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award (1991). She also published several books, including Zebraﬁsh: A Practical Approach (2002; written with Ralf Dahm) and Coming to Life: How Genes Drive Development (2006).