Nüsslein–Volhard, Christiane 1942-

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Nüsslein-Volhard, Christiane 1942-


Born October 20, 1942, in Magdeburg, Germany; daughter of Rolf (an architect) and Brigitte (a musician and painter) Volhard; formerly married. Education: Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe-University, received degrees in 1964; Eberhard-Karls University, received degree in 1968; University of Tübingen, Germany, Ph.D., 1973; Yale University, Sc.D.


Office—Max-Planck-Institut für Entwicklungsbiologie, Abt. Genetick, Spemannstr. 35, 72076 Tübingen, Germany. E-mail—[email protected].


Biologist, geneticist, researcher, and writer. Max-Planck-Institut für Virusforschung, Tübingen, Germany, research fellow, 1972-74; Biozentrum Basel, Basel, Switzerland, postdoctoral fellow, 1975-76; affiliated with the laboratory of Dr. K. Sander, University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany, 1977; European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg, Germany, member of head group, 1978-1980; Friedrich-Miescher-Laboratorium, Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Tübingen, Germany, 1981-85, scientific member, 1985-1990; Max-Planck-Institut für Entwicklungsbiologie, Tübingen, Germany, director, 1985-1990, director of department of genetics, 1990—. Also founder of the Christine Nüsslein-Volhard Foundation, an organization devoted to encouraging young German women interested in a career in the sciences, 1994.


European Molecular Biology Organization, Berlin Brandenburgische Academy, American Philosophical Society.


Forderpreis, award Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft, 1986; Franz Vogt prize, University of Giessen, 1986, Carus Medal, German Academy Leopoldine, 1989; Schering prize, Berlin, 1993; Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, 1991; Louisa Gross Horowitz prize, Columbia University, 1992; Rosenstiel Medal, Brandeis University; Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (with Edward B. Lewis and Eric F. Wieschaus), 1995, for discoveries concerning the genetic control of early embryonic development; L'oréal-UNESCO Tribute award (for UNESCO's 60th anniversary), 2006.


Coming to Life: How Genes Drive Development, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 2006.


Although she came from a family of architects and musicians, Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard decided when she was very young that she wanted to become a scientist, even though few women at the time chose science as a field of study. In her autobiography on the Nobelprize.org Web site, the author wrote: "I remember that already as a child I was often intensely interested in things, obsessed by ideas and projects in many areas, and in these topics I learned much on my own, reading books. Early on I was interested in plants and animals, I think I knew at the age of twelve at the latest that I wanted to be a biologist."

Nüsslein-Volhard eventually received degrees in biology, physics, chemistry, and biochemistry. Though married only for a short time when she was young, Nüsslein-Volhard decided to keep her hyphenated last name because she was already gaining some renown for scientific research and was recognized by that name. In 1995, she was a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, making her the first German woman to win in this category. Noted for her research in identifying genes that control the early stages of embryonic development in fruit flies, Nüsslein-Volhard and colleagues Edward B. Lewis and Eric F. Wieschaus, with whom she shared the Nobel Prize, laid the foundation for the study of the human counterparts to genes that influence human development, including the genes responsible for birth defects.

In her book, Coming to Life: How Genes Drive Development, Nüsslein-Volhard explains for a popular, general audience the cellular and genetic basis for animal development. She also examines the ethical ramifications of recent progress in genomics and biotechnology, such as cloning and stem cell research. "The thread of the book is the importance of genetic analysis as an essential tool to understanding the development of organisms, and the principles that have been derived from this," wrote Alfonso Martinez Arias in a review of Coming to Life in Nature. "A second important message is the sense of unity of mechanism that underlies the diversity of animal form."

In the process of discussing the biology of animals and ethical issues associated with modern research in these areas, the author provides an in-depth view of the miraculous processes that occur in the microscopic world of cells. She discusses the latest in scientific understanding concerning embryonic forms ad explains genetic mechanisms that influence animal development and cause children to look like their parents. Many of her topics are addressed from the standpoint of laboratory research on through to their applications in human beings. The author includes her own hand-drawn illustrations.

Noting that the author "provides an engaging and clear summary of what developmental biologists now understand about how embryos work," Rudolf A. Raff went on his review of Coming to Life in the American Scientist that the author "has given us a compact, vibrant, lucid guide to modern developmental biology. She makes the text informative and precise, and renders difficult concepts readily understandable." In his review in Nature, Arias note that the author writes "with a style that is direct, simple and easy to read." Commenting on the later chapters in which the author discusses politically charged issues such as stem cell research and research in gene therapies, Arias wrote that he "wonder[s] whether reading this book would … not benefit politicians, social activists and journalists," adding that "it would certainly give them a perspective for their judgements."

In an interview with Amy Crawford in the Smithsonian. the author also commented on the book being read by politicians and others in government. She noted: "The most useful thing they could learn: that they shouldn't be so afraid of this modern knowledge. People think if you have deciphered the genome of humans that you can change everything. But you cannot change everything, because you do not know what the genes mean, and you have no methods for changing them, and you can't do experiments with humans like you can with animals. And therefore it's totally unrealistic to have fears about this."



Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, Volume 25, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2005.

Newsmakers 1998, Issue 1, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.

Notable Scientists: From 1900 to the Present, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2000.

Notable Women Scientists, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.

World of Anatomy and Physiology Online, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2006.

World Biology Online, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2006.

World of Genetics Online, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2006.

World of Health Online, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2006.


American Medical News, October 7, 1991, Beverly Merz, "Three Geneticists Win 15,000 dollar Lasker Research Awards: Public Service Awards Also Given," p. 28.

American Scientist, July 1, 2006, Rudolf A. Raff, "In the Twinkle of a Fly," review of Coming to Life: How Genes Drive Development, p. 365.

BioEssays, October, 2007, John Gerhart, review of Coming to Life, p. 1064.

Biotechnology Newswatch, October 7, 1991, "Yuet Wai Kan Wins Lasker Award for Developing RFLP Gene Markers," p. 1.

California Bookwatch, October, 2006, review of Coming to Life.

Choice, November, 2006, W.R. Morgan, review of Coming to Life, p. 505.

Financial Times, October 10, 1995, Clive Cookson, "Three Win Nobel Prize for Embryo Research," p. 5.

Genetic Engineering News, October, 1991, "Geneticists Win 1991 Lasker Awards for Medical Research," p. 1.

Medical World News, October, 1991, Charles D. Bankhead, "Genetic Test Pioneer Wins '91 Lasker Clinical Award," p. 20.

Nature, June 8, 2006, Alfonso Martinez Arias, review of Coming to Life, pp. 695-696.

New York Times, November 5, 1991, Natalie Angier, "In an Unlikely Romance, Biologists Take the Zebra Fish into Their Labs," p. 1; July 4, 2006, Claudia Dreifus, "A Conversation With Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard; Solving a Mystery of Life, Then Tackling a Real-Life Problem."

Quarterly Review of Biology, December, 2007, Dominic Poccia, review of Coming to Life, p. 417.

Science, October 20, 1995, Wade Roush, "Fly Development Work Bears Prize-Bearing Fruit," p. 380; April 20, 2007, Nipam H. Patel, "An Intelligent Primer," review of Coming to Life, p. 373.

Science News, October 14, 1995, John Travis, "Nobel Prize for Genes That Shape Embryos," p. 246.

Smithsonian, June, 2006, Amy Crawford, "Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard."


Nobelprize.org,http://nobelprize.org/ (February 22, 2008), "Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard—Autobiography."