AKA Christiane Nüsslein
Birthplace: Magdeburg, Germany
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Executive summary: Embryonic development of fruit flies
German geneticist Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard -- friends call her 'Janni' -- described herself as a lazy high school student who rarely did her homework, and in college she earned mediocre marks. After a brief marriage that ended in divorce, she spent many years studying the embryonic development of the Drosophila melanogaster fruit fly, even writing that the insects followed her into her dreams. "I saw them whenever I closed my eyes," she once said. She created a detailed database of Drosophila mutations, research that has helped explain how a single-celled embryo, whether fruit fly or human, grows into a complex living animal. She also came up with rather fanciful names for newly identified genes, including Oskar, Gurken, Krüppel, and Hedgehog.
Nüsslein-Volhard and her long-time collaborator Eric F. Wieschaus were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1995, sharing the honor with Edward B. Lewis, whose discovery that genes for controlling organ formation are arranged in order on the chromosomes provided the foundation for the work of Nüsslein-Volhard and Wieschaus. Since winning her Nobel Prize, she has switched her studies from fruit flies to zebra fish, and at last report she was keeping about 10,000 aquariums housing half a million fish. In her spare time she designs jigsaw puzzles, and she has established the Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard Foundation, which provides daycare funding for female scientists who have small children.
"There is terrible prejudice against women who are successful", she said in a 2006 interview with the New York Times. "If she's beautiful, she must be stupid. And if a woman is smart, she must be ugly -- or nasty. I think it makes some people feel better to learn I bake good chocolate cake."
Father: Rolf Volhard (architect, d. 1962)
Mother: Brigitte Hass Volhard (misician)
University: University of Frankfurt (transferred to Tübingen)
University: MS Biochemistry, University of Tübingen (1969)
University: PhD Molecular Biology, University of Tübingen (1973)
Scholar: University of Basel (1975-76)
Scholar: University of Freiburg (1976-77)
Scholar: European Molecular Biology Laboratory of Heidelberg (1978-80)
Professor: Genetics, Max Planck Institute of Tübingen (1981-)
Administrator: Director of Developmental Biology, Max Planck Institute of Tübingen (1985-)
Lasker Award 1991
Nobel Prize for Medicine 1995 (with Edward B. Lewis and Eric F. Wieschaus)
National Academy of Sciences
Author of books:
Of Fish, Fly, Worm, and Man: Lessons from Developmental Biology for Human Gene Function and Disease (2000)
Zebrafish: A Practical Approach (2002, with Ralf Dahm)
Coming to Life: How Genes Drive Development (2006)
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