German Gene Genius

Today is the 57th birthday of Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, a developmental geneticist whose work has helped explain the mechanisms behind the early embryonic development of all multicellular organisms.

In the late 1970s, Nüsslein-Volhard and her colleague Eric Wieschaus spent more than a year crossbreeding 40,000 fruit fly families and studying their genetic makeup. They discovered that of the fly's 20,000 genes, about 5000 are important to early development, and 140 are essential. These developmental genes fell into three categories: "gap" genes that lay out the head-to-tail body plan; "pair-rule" genes that determine body segmentation; and "segment-polarity" genes that form repeating structures in each segment.

For their work, Nüsslein-Volhard--who now directs a division at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany--and Wieschaus shared the 1995 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with Edward B. Lewis.

[Source: Britannica Online]