Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard

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The scientist who discovered the role of genes inorganism development by studying the fruit fly

Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard is a development biologist, born in Germany in 1942. She studied biology, physics, and biochemistry at the University of Frankfurt and two years after receiving her doctorate she entered the Laboratory of Walter Gehring. She aimed to study how genes influence the development of organisms, turning an egg into an embryo with distinct parts, and how genes can cause defects in the embryo.

To do this, Walter and Christiane analysed the embryonic mutations of the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster), arriving to important conclusions, being the first scientists who used this insects in their investigations. And why the fruit fly? Due to the high number of eggs in each spawning, the speed with which they reproduce, allowing for the study of many generations in a short space of time, and the ease with which you detect mutants, individuals with genetic alterations. Another advantage: although it may seem surprising, there is a great similarity between fly genes and human genes.

Studying the differences between the genes of normal flies and those that showed Studying the differences between genes of normal flies and those that showed malformations, they were able to find out what genes were involved in the development of specific parts of the body. Their research allowed them to understand important aspects of developmental genes in vertebrates, especially in humans, and provided new insights into the pathogenesis of cancer.

In 1995 she received the Nobel prize in Medicine for her discoveries concerning the genetic control of early embryo development. With the money that she received from the Award, she created in 2004 the Foundation that bears her name, with the aim of encouraging young German women scientists to engage in research, offering financial and childcare assistance.

In 1985, Christiane was named Director of the Area of Developmental Biology at the Max Planck Institute, becoming one of the few women Laboratory directors of the Institute.

«I think there are profound differences between women and men. In intelligence and creativity, there is no difference, but in what one loves, what one likes, the passions - there are differences.»