In science and medicine, the Nobel Prize is the ultimate honor that can be bestowed on a person. The Nobel Prizes in science and medicine were first awarded in 1901. Since then, 10 women have been awarded the prize. The first woman to receive a Nobel Prize was Marie Sklodowska Curie (1867-1934), who received the honor in 1903 in physics and again in 1911 in chemistry. The latest woman to receive the prize was Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard (1942-), who received it in 1995 for her work in the understanding of malformation in early embryonic development. In all, 3 women have received the prize in chemistry, 6 in physiology or medicine, and 2 in physics. Madame Curie is the only woman to have been honored twice.
Marie Curie received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1903 for her studies on spontaneous radioactivity. She shared the prize with her husband Pierre Curie (1859-1906) and Antoine Henri Becquerel (1852-1908). In 1911, Madam Curie was the sole recipient of the Nobel Prize in chemistry, for her discovery and identification of the element radium.
Marie Curie was born Marja Sklodowska on November 7, 1867, in Warsaw, Poland, the youngest of 5 children. Her father taught physics in a secondary school in Warsaw, and her mother was a principal at a girls' school. Her mother died in 1878. Because of the family's financial difficulties, Marie worked as a governess in Poland for 6 years (1885-1891) to help finance the education of her older sister in Paris. When the older sister became a physician, Marie left Poland to join her physician-sister in Paris and enrolled at the Faculty of Science at the University of Paris (Sorbonne). In 1893, she received a license (the equivalent of a master's degree) in physics, and a year later, she earned a license in mathematics. In 1894, Marie met Pierre Curie and married him on July 26, 1895.
By October 1895, Marie and Pierre Curie were settled in Paris, and she worked in the laboratory of the School of Physics at the University of Paris. Motivated by the work of Becquerel, who investigated uranium and radioactive substances in 1896, Marie began the study of pitchblende (a source of uranium). On September 12, 1897, the Curies' first child, Irene (1897-1956), was born.
On April 12, 1898, Marie Curie announced the presence of a new radioactive element in pitchblende. In July 1898, she discovered polonium, andin December 1898, she announced the discovery of the element radium. In 1900, she was appointed a professor in physics at the École Normale Supérieur in Sévres, France (6 miles southwest of Paris), and continued her laboratory research and work on her doctorate.
In June 1903, she took her doctoral examination on her thesis “Researches on Radioactive Substances,” and in 1904, she was awarded a doctorate in science from the Sorbonne. In August 1903, the Curies' second child was born, but it died in infancy. A third child, Eve (1904-), was born in December 1904 and grew to be a noted musician and a gifted writer; in 1938, she wrote a famous biography of her mother, Madame Curie. In December 1904, Marie Curie also was appointed chief assistant to the laboratory directed by Pierre.
In 1906, Pierre Curie was run over by a horse and carriage on a street in Paris and died. On his death, Marie was appointed (May 13, 1906) to succeed him as professor of physics at the Sorbonne, the first woman to be given such a post.
In 1910, Marie Curie wrote the classic Treatise on Radioactivity (Traité de Radioactivité). Also in 1910, after 4 years of intensive work, she isolated radium in the metallic state. She was awarded the 1911 Nobel Prize in chemistry for the discovery of polonium and radium. Just before World War I (1914-1918), the University of Paris and the Pasteur Institute jointly established the Radium Institute, devoted to the study of radioactivity. She was appointed director of the division for basic research, a position she held from 1914 to 1934.
In 1921, Marie Curie visited the United States to accept 1 gram of radium for the Radium Institute. It was presented to her by President Warren G. Harding.
The last decade of Madam Curie's life was spent as director of the Radium Institute. On July 4, 1934, in a sanatorium at Sancellemoz, Savoie, in the French Alps, at the age of 66 years, Marie Curie died of pernicious anemia caused by radium poisoning.
Iréne Joliot-Curie was awarded the 1935 Nobel Prize in chemistry for the discovery and synthesis of new radioactive elements prepared artificially. She shared the prize with her husband Frédéric Joliot (1900-1958). Her work on the transformations that occur in radioactive elements makes it possible to study the location and elimination of various elements in living organisms and to use artificially produced radioactive elements to monitor chemical changes and physiologic processes.
The daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie, Iréne was born on September 12, 1897, in Paris and was raised mainly by governesses and her paternal physician-grandfather. She did not attend formal schools until she was 12 years old. From the age of 10 to 12 years, she studied at a teaching cooperative established by some of her mother's colléagues and friends for their own children. In 1909, she enrolled at the College Sévigne to study for her baccalaureate degree. In 1914, she received her baccalaureate degree from the college, and from 1914 to 1920, she studied at the Sorbonne. In 1920, she passed the examination for a license in physics and mathematics.
In 1918, Iréne Curie became an assistant to her mother, who was then the director of the Radium Institute. By 1921, she was conducting her own scientific research, and in 1925, she received the ScD degree from the University of Paris with a thesis on the alpha rays of polonium, the element her parents had discovered. While working in her mother's laboratory, Irene met Frédéric Joliot in 1925 and married him on October 9, 1926.
Iréne Curie-Joliot became politically active in 1934, the year she joined the French Socialist Party. In 1936, she was appointed undersecretary of state for scientific research and helped to lay the foundation for what would later become the National Center for Scientific Research.
In 1937, Joliot-Curie became a professor at the University of Paris. In 1940, at the time of the German invasion of France, she remained in France. However, in May 1944, before the liberation of Paris, she fled to Switzerland with her 2 children; her husband remained in Paris, working for the French underground. She returned to France in 1946 and was appointed director of the Radium Institute, a position that her mother had held until her death in 1934. From 1946 to 1950, she was a director of the French Atomic Energy Commission. After 1950, she and her husband devoted most of their time to laboratory research, teaching, and various peace movements.
During the 1950s, after several operations, Curie-Joliot's health began to deteriorate. Wasted by a blood disease (acute leukemia), as her mother had been, Iréne entered the Curie Hospital in Paris and died there on March 17, 1956, at the age of 58 years.
Gerty Cori won the 1947 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for her work on the metabolism of glycogen. She shared the prize with her husband Carl Cori (1896-1984) and the Argentinean physiologist Bernardo Alberto Houssay (1887-1971). The Caris determined the important metabolic relationship between glucose and glycogen, and they crystallized the enzyme phosphorylase, synthesized glucose, and discovered glucose-1-phosphate. Houssay won the prize for his discovery of the role that a hormone secreted by the anterior pituitary gland has in the metabolism of sugar.
Gerty Cori was born Gerty Therese Radnitz on August 15, 1896, in Prague, Austro-Hungarian Empire (now the Czech Republic). She was the eldest of 3 daughters of a businessman father who managed a sugar refinery. Her early education was obtained from private tutors, and in 1906, at the age of 10 years, she entered the lyceum for girls in Prague from which she graduated in 1912. In 1914, she graduated from the Realgymnasium in Tetschen (now Décén) in the Czech Republic, after which she entered the Carl Ferdinand University (the German University of Prague), where she met her future husband, Carl.
From 1917 to 1918 (during World War I), Gerty was an assistant at the German University, taking patient histories, giving physical examinations, doing laboratory work, and giving medical demonstrations. After the war, she completed her studies and received her medical degree from the German University in 1920. On August 5, 1920, she married Carl, and they moved to Vienna, Austria, where she worked at the Karolinen Children's Hospital until 1922, studying the thyroid gland and the spleen.
In 1922, the Caris emigrated to the United States, where Gerty became an assistant pathologist at the New York State Institute for the Study of Malignant Disease (now the Roswell Park Memorial Institute) in Buffalo. The Coris became US citizens in 1928. They worked in Buffalo until 1931, when Gerty became a fellow and research associate in pharmacology and biochemistry at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, Mo. It was in St Louis that Gerty and Carl conducted their Nobel Prize–winning work on the metabolism of glycogen. In 1943, Gerty was promoted to research professor of biochemistry, and in 1947, she became professor of biochemistry.
The Coris are credited also with discovering the “Cori cycle.” The cycle begins with glycogen in the muscle being metabolized to lactic acid, which is taken by the blood to the liver, where it becomes liver glycogen. This is released from the liver into the blood stream as glucose, which becomes muscle glycogen, completing the cycle. Establishing the details of this cycle required the Coris to study enzymes. In the process, they discovered the “Cori ester” (glucose-l-phosphate) and later identified 2 new enzymes, phosphorylase and phosphoglucomutase; phosphorylase changes glycogen into glucose-1-phosphate, the Cori ester. In 1943, the Coris synthesized glycogen in a test tube.
In 1947, Gerty Cori was discovered to have myelofibrosis, a chronic illness in which normal bone marrow tissue is progressively replaced by fibrous tissue. That same year, she was 1 of the 12 women honored at Hobart and William Smith College in Geneva, NY, during ceremonies marking the centennial of the first medical degree conferred on a US woman, Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910), who received her medical degree from Geneva Medical College. On October 26, 1957, at the age of 61 years, Gerty Cori died of kidney failure in Glendale, Mo, a suburb of St Louis.
Maria Goeppert-Mayer and J. Hans D. Jensen (1907-1973) were awarded half of the 1963 Nobel Prize in physics for their discoveries concerning nuclear shell structure. Independently, the 2 physicists proposed the nuclear shell theory, that is, the protons and neutrons of the atomic nucleus are arranged in concentric stable shells. The other half of the prize was awarded to the Hungarian-born American physicist Eugene Paul Wigner (1902-1995) for his contributions to the theory of the atomic nucleus and the elementary particles. The work of Mayer and Jensen has inspired new investigators and has been indispensable for later work, both experimentally and theoretically, on atomic nuclei.
Goeppert-Mayer was born Maria Goeppert on June 28, 1906, in Kattowitz, Germany (now Katowice, in southern Poland). She was an only child. Herfather was professor of pediatrics at the University of Göttingen. In the spring of 1924, Maria enrolled in the University of Göttingen. She spent 1 term at Cambridge University (England) and returned to Gottingen, where in 1930 she was awarded the PhD degree in theoretical physics.
On January 18, 1930, she married Joseph E. Mayer, an American Rockefeller Fellow working at the University of Göttingen with James Franck. When her husband was offered a position in 1930 at the Johns. Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md, Maria Goeppert-Mayer came with him to the United States. Although she continued her work in physics at Johns Hopkins, she received no salary. In 1933, she became a US citizen. In 1939, she and her husband moved to Columbia University in New York City, where she became a lecturer. They remained at Columbia University until 1946, when they moved to the University of Chicago, where she became a professor of physics. She was also employed at the Argonne National Laboratory. While at the University of Chicago, Goeppert-Mayer developed the nuclear shell theory, which she described in publications in 1948 and 1949. However, shortly before these reports were published, Jensen in Germany reported a similar theory.
In 1960, Goeppert-Mayer and her husband went to the University of California in San Diego, where she was professor of physics and he, professor of chemistry. About this time, when she was only 54 years old, she had a stroke that impaired her speech and partially paralyzed her. From this time on, her health declined, and on February 20, 1972, at the age of 65 years, she died of a heart attack in San Diego.
Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin received the 1964 Nobel Prize in chemistry for determining in 1957 the structure of vitamin B12 an important agent in the treatment and control of pernicious anemia. Also, with the use of x-ray crystallography, she determined the structure of penicillin in 1949 and insulin in 1957, thus making it possible to synthesize and produce these important substances.
Dorothy Crowfoot was born on May 12, 1910, in Cairo, Egypt, where her archeologist father was working in the Egyptian Education Service. She was the eldest of 4 daughters. When World War I erupted in 1914, Dorothy and her 2 younger sisters were sent to England for safety. She and her sisters sailed from Egypt and landed in Worthing, in southern England on the English Channel, where she lived with her paternal grandmother. Dorothy Crowfoot did not see her parents again until the end of 1918, when the war was over. This was when she also met her youngest sister for the first time. Her parents settled in Lincoln in east central England, where she spent her childhood. The family moved in 1921 to Geldeston, in East Suffolk (about 100 miles northeast of London), and she attended the Sir John Leman School in nearby Beccles until 1928.
From 1928 to 1932, Crowfoot attended Somerville College, Oxford University, where her interest in x-ray crystallography began. After receiving her baccalaureate degree in 1932, she enrolled at Cambridge University for postgraduate study. At Cambridge University (1932-1934), she and a coworker took the first x-ray diffraction photograph of the protein pepsin. In 1934, she returned to Oxford University and became a member of the Department of Mineralogy and Crystallography. At Somerville College, she became Official Fellow and Tutor in Natural Science, and in 1946, she became a university lecturer and demonstrator.
In 1937, Dorothy Crowfoot received the PhD degree from Cambridge University, with a thesis on the chemistry and crystallography of sterols. On December 16, 1937, she married the writer and lecturer Thomas L. Hodgkin, a member of a well-regarded English family and relative of the famous physician Thomas Hodgkin (1798-1866), who described Hodgkin's disease. The wedding took place in Geldeston.
Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin taught at Oxford University from 1934 until 1977. Between 1942 and 1949, she worked on the structure of penicillin. In 1949, she clarified the structure of penicillin. As a result of this work, penicillin could be synthesized and mass-produced. In 1948, she made the first x-ray photographs of vitamin B12 and eventually in 1957 determined its structure. From 1960 to 1977, she served as the Wolfson Research Professor of the Royal Society. On July 29, 1994, at the age 84 years, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin died in Shipston-on-Stour in southeastern England.
Rosalyn Sussman Yalow shared the 1977 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with Andrew V. Schally (1926-) and Roger Guillemin (1924-) for her work on the development of radioimmunoassay (RIA) of peptide hormones. By combining the techniques for radioactive tracing with those of immunology, RIA makes it possible to measure the concentrations of numerous pharmacologic and biologic substances in the blood and other fluids of the human body and in animals and plants. By 1977, RIA was used to measure the concentrations not only of hormones but also of vitamins, viruses, enzymes, drugs, and other substances to help determine differences between normal and diseased states.
Rosalyn Sussman was born on July 19, 1921, in South Bronx, New York City. Her father owned a small paper and twine business. Rosalyn received her early education in the Bronx public schools, and in 1937, she entered Hunter College (now part of City University of New York). She graduated with a BS degree in physics and chemistry in 1941, after which she became a teaching fellow in physics at the University of Illinois in Urbana. On June 6, 1943, Rosalyn Sussman married Aaron Yalow. She earned the PhD degree in physics in 1947 from the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois.
After she received her doctorate, she returned to New York City, where she worked for 1 year as an electrical engineer for the Federal Telecommunications Laboratory. From 1946 to 1950, she was a lecturer in physics at Hunter College. In 1947, she became associated with the Veterans Administration hospital in the Bronx as a consultant in nuclear physics. In 1950, she was appointed physicist and assistant chief of the hospital's radioisotope service. It was at the VA hospital that Yalow began investigating various applications of radioactive isotopes (tracer molecules labeled or tagged with radioactive atoms). Her colleague was physician Solomon A. Berson (1918-1972), who also deserved the Nobel Prize but died before it could be awarded. (The Nobel Prize is not awarded posthumously.)
Radioimmunoassay was first applied by Yalow and Berson in 1959 in their study of insulin concentrations in the blood of diabetic patients. Yalow was a researcher and administrator at the VA hospital from 1950 to 1980 and became director of the Solomon A. Berson Laboratory in 1973. In 1980, she left the VA hospital to become an administrator at the Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, serving from 1980 to 1986. Since 1986, she has been associated with Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City as a professor.
In addition to receiving the Nobel Prize, Yalow has been awarded many special honors, including honorary doctorate degrees. In 1976, she became the first woman to be awarded the Albert Lasker Prize for basic medical research.
Barbara McClintock received the 1983 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for her discovery of mobile genetic elements (“jumping genes”). She made the discovery through her study of the morphology of chromosomes in maize (Indian corn). She found that genetic information was not stationary and that genes could jump from one place to another on chromosomes—a finding that has greatly increased the knowledge of genetic function and organization and has provided perspective on how genes are changed during evolution. McClintock did this work in the 1940s and 1950s, but it was not recognized as important until the 1980s.
In the mid-1960s, mobile elements were discovered to have a role in the spread of antibiotic resistance to sensitive strains of bacteria, and in the mid-1970s, mobile genes were discovered in bacteria, yeasts, and other plants. Later work on corn showed that the portions of DNA that control other genes can move between chromosome sites.
Barbara McClintock, the third of 4 children, was born on June 16, 1902, in Hartford, Conn. Her father was a physician. In 1908, when she was 6 years old, the family moved to Brooklyn, NY, where she received her elementary and secondary education, graduating from Erasmus High School in Brooklyn in 1918. She worked for 1 year before deciding to go to college.
In 1919, McClintock enrolled at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, to study biology in the College of Agriculture. In 1923, she received a BS degree, after which she continued her studies, earning an MS degree in 1928 in the Department of Biology, majoring in cytology and minoring in genetics and zoology. In 1924, while in graduate school, she was appointed assistant in the Department of Botany.
McClintock continued her work in plant genetics and was awarded the PhD degree in 1927 in From 1924 to 1931, she was a researcher at Cornell University. In 1931, she and a colleague proved that when 2 cells of corn were crossed genetically, they also exchanged chromosome material.
In 1931, McClintock was awarded a 2-year National Research Council Fellowship, which allowed her to divide her time and to work at Cornell University, the University of Missouri at Columbia, and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. In 1933, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to study with German geneticists of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin. In 1934, she returned to Cornell University on a 2-year Rockefeller Foundation award. During this time, she was an assistant in the genetics laboratory.
In 1936, McClintock left Cornell University to join the staff of the University of Missouri in Columbia as an assistant professor of botany. She remained at the university until 1941, when she left to join the Carnegie Institution of Washington's Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, NY.
In 1944, she began the work that was to earn her the Nobel Prize nearly 40 years later—the study of genes that could move spontaneously to another part of the chromosome or even to another chromosome. After 6 arduous years, she finally had success, and she presented her findings in the summer of 1951. At the time, no one understood or accepted the importance and implications of her work. After 1960, her work began to receive some recognition, but it was not until the late 1970s and early 1980s that her research was fully embraced by the scientific community.
From 1958 to 1960, she took time from her research to train Latin American cytologists to collect and to identify indigenous strains of maize. She remained at Carnegie's Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for more than 50 years. When, on September 2, 1992, Barbara McClintock died at age 90 years in Huntington, NY, she was considered one of the most important figures in the history of genetics.
Rita Levi-Montalcini was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for identifying nerve growth factor (NGF) and showing that it was necessary for growth and maintenance of certain cells in the nervous system. She shared the prize with Stanley Cohen (1922-), who purified NGF from mouse salivary glands, determined its chemical structure, and produced NGF antibodies. Nerve growth factor was the first of many cell growth factors discovered in the bodies of animals. With the availability of more sophisticated scientific tools, such as genetic engineering, the work of Levi-Montalcini and Cohen has taken on increased importance, as researchers explore how NGF can help them understand such disorders as cancer, birth defects, Parkinson disease, and Alzheimer disease.
Rita Levi-Montalcini was born on April 22, 1909, in Turin, Italy. She had a twin sister and 2 other sisters. Her father was an electrical engineer, and her mother was an artist. Levi-Montalcini entered the school of medicine at the University of Turin in 1930 and received her MD degree in 1936, after which she remained at the university to study cells of the nervous system. She specialized in neurology and worked for a while at the anatomy institute and the neurology clinic. In 1938, she was dismissed from her position when Jews were barred from university positions. In March 1939, she left Italy for Belgium, where she worked at the Neurologic Institute of Brussels. She returned to Turin in December 1939 and set up a laboratory in her apartment, where she studied chick embryos. In 1940, she received a degree for specialization in neurology and psychiatry. In the autumn of 1942, she moved to a farmhouse outside Turin to escape the Allied bombardment of the city during World War II. She continued her research on cells of the nervous system.
In September 1943, German soldiers occupied parts of Italy, including Turin, so she went to Florence, which was still in German hands but was liberated by British soldiers in September 1944. From September 1944 to May 1945, she worked for the Allied Health Service, ministering to war refugees in central Italy. At the end of the war, she returned to her former position of research assistant at the University of Turin.
In 1946, Levi-Montalcini left Italy and went to Washington University in St Louis, Mo, joining the noted zoologist Viktor Hamburger (1900-), who was doing research on the growth of nerve tissue in chick embryos. While working in Hamburger's laboratory, she discovered that various mouse tumors spurred nerve growth when implanted into chick embryos. This effect was traced to a substance in the tumor, which was named “nerve-growth factor.” Levi-Montalcini was appointed associate professor of zoology in 1951 and full professor in 1958. She became associated with Cohen at Washington University in 1954.
From 1954 to 1959 Levi-Montalcini and Cohen were able to extract NGF in greater quantities from snake venom and mouse salivary glands and identified the factor as a protein molecule.
In the early 1960s, Levi-Montalcini set up a laboratory in Rome at the Higher Institute of Health. After this, she began commuting between Italy and the United States. From 1961 to 1969, she participated in a joint research program with Washington University. In 1969, she established the Laboratory of Cell Biology of the Italian National Research Council in Rome and served as its director until 1979, after which she continued as a full-time professor until 1981.
Gertrude Belle Elion shared the 1988 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with the American pharmacologist George Herbert Hitchings (1905-1998) and the British physician Sir James W. Black (1924-) for developing the rationale for the formulation of new and effective drugs. On the basis of their scientific study of the biochemical and physiologic differences in abnormal and normal cells, they designed drugs that interfered with the nucleic acid metabolism of diseased cells, leaving normal cells unaffected. This strategy revolutionized pharmaceutical research.
Elion, the daughter of a dentist, was born on January 23, 1918, in New York City. After the birth of her brother in 1924, the family moved from Manhattan to the Bronx, where she received her education at Walton High School (a public school for girls), graduating in 1933 at the age of 15 years. After her graduation from secondary school, she enrolled at Hunter College, New York City, and received an AB degree in biochemistry in 1937. With her degree, Elion worked as a laboratory assistant in biochemistry for a New York hospital for 1 year and then as an assistant organic chemist for a chemical company for 2 years. During this time, she attended graduate school at New York University and received her MS degree in 1941. While doing research for her MS degree, Elion taught chemistry and physics in the secondary schools of New York City. From 1942 to 1943, she was an analyst in food chemistry for Quaker Maid Company, and from 1943 to 1944, she was a research organic chemist for Johnson and Johnson Company in Brunswick, NJ.
In 1944, Elion joined the research laboratories of Burroughs Wellcome Company in Tuckahoe, NY (about 12 miles north of the Bronx), as an assistant to Hitchings. During this time, she began her PhD program at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, commuting from her home in Tuckahoe for night classes. However, she never completed her degree work because she was told that it would not be possible for her to work on her doctorate on a part-time basis. Many years later she wrote, “I made what was then a critical decision in my life, to stay with my job and give up the pursuit of a doctorate.”
She worked with Hitchings on the purines and pyrimidines, the structural bases of DNA and RNA. Hitchings had theorized that it might be possible to stop the growth of rapidly dividing cells such as bacteria, tumor cells, and protozoa by using antagonists (antimetabolites) of the nucleic acid bases. Success hinged on chemically disrupting nucleic acid metabolism in disease-causing organisms while leaving healthy cells unimpaired. Elion and Hitchings studied the differences in structure and action of normal and abnormal cells. Their research enabled them to design drugs that selectively operate against various diseases, among them leukemia (6-mercaptopurine and thioguanine), malaria (pyrimethamine), gout (allopurinol), urinary and respiratory infections (trimethoprim), and autoimmune disorders (azathioprine). For more than 40 years, she and Hitchings worked as colleagues.
In 1970, Burroughs Wellcome Company moved its laboratories from Tuckahoe to Research Triangle Park, NC, near Chapel Hill. In 1983, Elion retired from the company but continued her role as emeritus scientist. On February 21, 1999, at the age of 81 years, Elion died in Chapel Hill.
Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard shared the 1995 Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology with Edward B. Lewis (1918-) and Eric F. Wieschaus (1947-) for work “that achieved a breakthrough that will explain congenital malformations in man.” Lewis, working at the California Institute of Technology in the 1940s, formulated the concept of the existence of clusters of genes that controlled the development of the body of the fruit fly. In the 1970s, Nüsslein-Volhard, working at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, and Wieschaus, working at Princeton University in the United States, extended Lewis's work, searching for mutations that controlled the early stages of development.
They identified the genes that caused the fertilized egg of the fruit fly to develop into an orderly pattern of segments, which eventually determined the shape of the fruit fly. Later, other researchers found that what the 3 laureates had discovered in the fruit fly also applied to humans.
Nüsslein-Volhard was born on October 10, 1942, in Magdeberg, Germany. She received a diploma in biochemistry from the University of Tübingen in 1968 and her PhD degree in 1972. She joined the Max Planck Institute in Tübingen as a postdoctoral fellow-researcher, serving from 1972 to 1975. She became a researcher at the Biozentrum Company in Basel, Switerland (1975-1976), the University of Freiburg in Germany (1976-1977), and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany (1978-1980). In 1980, she became a professor at the Max Planck Institute, and from 1981 to 1985, she was research group leader of the Friedrick-Miecher Laboratory at the Max Planck Institute. From 1985 to 1990, she was director of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology. She was named director of the genetics laboratory and professor at the University of Tübingen in 1990.
In addition to the Nobel Prize, Nüsslein-Volhard has received may awards and honors, including the Leibnitz Prize, the Lasker Prize, the Schering Prize, and the Rosensteil Medal.
© 2000 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.