KEYWORDS: Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, Nobel Prize 1995, Biochemistry.
SHE THOUGHT IT
Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard’s most important work, in which she collaborated with Eric Wieschaus, was the identification of 15 (out of 20 000) genes that cause an embryo to develop normally. Their discovery was the reason they were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1995. Nüsslein-Volhard obtained a junior position in 1981 at the Friedrich-Miescher-Laboratory of the Max Planck Society in Tübingen, researching fly embryos. Four years later, she was appointed director of the Developmental Biology Laboratory, becoming the third woman (after Lise Meitner and Elisabeth Schiemann) to occupy this position. In 1992, she opened a 6000-tank “house” for zebrafish species Danio rerio, where she and her team of researchers study the mutations of the embryos1. Her fascination with zebrafish continues to this day2.
Born in the midst of World War II (1942) in the German city of Magdeburg, Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard grew up in an artistic family3 (p.382). After obtaining a degree in biochemistry at the University of Tübingen in 1968, she earned a Ph.D. in biology and genetics in 1973. She married physicist Volker Nüsslein, but the couple later divorced.
In 1975, she moved to Basel in order to carry out her postdoctoral research working in Walter Gerhing’s laboratory on fruit fly Drosophila embryonic mutants3. It was there that she met an expert in fruit fly embryos, American biologist Eric F. Wieschaus, who later became her research partner3. She spent 1977 in Freiburg at the embryologist Klaus Sander’s laboratory and then three years at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, where she and Eric Wieschaus worked side by side, eventually breeding 40.000 Drosophila3.
Nüsslein-Volhard is also active in raising awareness of gender discrimination in the scientific community4. In 2004, she started the Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard Foundation, which offers support to promising young female German scientists with children, especially by facilitating childcare5. In 2008, she wrote an article entitled “Women in science – passion and prejudice” for the magazine Current Biology. In it, she relates the problems she had to face because of her gender during her career3. Since the start of the new millennium, Nüsslein-Volhard has published more than four scientific books for the general public as well as her own cookbook in 2006. When it comes to literature, Goethe is her role model3 (p.383).
SCIENTIFIC COLLABORATION AND RECOGNITION
Nüsslein-Volhard was the first graduate student of chemistry professor Heinz Schaller. He admitted that Nüsslein-Volhard should be listed as a first author (and not second) on a research paper written with fellow student Bertold Heyden as a graduate which was published in Nature3.
Regarding the beginning of her professional collaboration with Eric Wieschaus, Nüsslein-Volhard said she felt that she depended on him “because he had more fly experience and without him I would not have gotten the job”1.
Their discoveries in the fruit fly helped explain the genetic origin of human health problems, such as birth defects and tumors6.
SHE SAID IT
“Women are brought up to be kind and permissive, and as a laboratory director, you have to change your habits. This causes problems because men aren’t used to it and you don’t want to do it.”
cited by McGrayne, Sharon Bertsch (2002), Nobel Prize women in science: their lives, struggles, and momentous discoveries, 2nd edition, Washington DC, Joseph Henry Press
“In mathematics and science, there is no difference in the intelligence of men and women. The difference in genes between men and women is simply the Y chromosome, which has nothing to do with intelligence.”
cited in “Solving a Mystery of Life, Then Tackling a Real-Life Problem” (4 Jul. 2006), interviewed by Claudia Dreifus, <http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/04/science/04conv.html> (last accessed 12 Jul. 2016).
“The consciousness about women in science, for example, has changed dramatically from the time I was a student. Nobody thought about it at all then. The general expectation of course was that one would marry and have children, and I think this pressure was stronger then.”
cited in “Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard: A Nobel laureate holds forth on flies, genes and women in science” (Jun. 2006), interviewed by Amy Crawford, <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/christiane-nusslein-volhard-120255378/> (last accessed 2 Jun. 2016).
PRIZES, ACHIEVEMENTS, HONOURS
1989: Carus Prize-Medal of the German Academy of Sciences
1989: The Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award, Brandeis University, with Edward B. Lewis “for pioneering studies of eukaryotic development”7
1990: Mattia Award, Roche Institute, New Jersey
1991: Albert Lasker Medical Research Award, New York
1992: Alfred Sloan Price of the General Motors Company
1992: Gregor Mendel Medal of the Genetical Society, Great Britain
1992: Otto Bayer Preis der Bayer AG, Leverkusen,
1992: Otto Warburg Medal of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Biochemie
1992: Prix Louis Jeantet de Médecine, Geneva,
1993: Bertner Award from Anderson Cancer Research Center
1993: Sir Hans Krebs Medal of the Federation of European Biochemical Societies,
1993: Theodor Boveri Preis der Gesellschaft Physico-Medica der Universität Würtzburg, Ernst Schering Preis, Berlin
1994: Das Verdienstkreuz 1 Klasse des Verdienstordens der Bundesrepublik Deutschland
1995: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Steger, Volker (2012), Sketches of Science: Photo Sessions with Nobel Laureates, Lindau, Foundation Lindau Nobelprizewinners Meetings. The photographer Volker Steger asked Nobel Laureates to draw their discoveries and took a picture of them8.
Badge, Peter (2008), Nobel Faces: A Gallery of Nobel Prize Winners, Weinheim, Wiley-VCH.
“Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard”, Mein Leben (27 Jun. 2009), dir. Sabine Jainski and Ilona Kalmbach, television.
“Nobelprize.org”, Nobelprize.org, Nobel Media AB 2014, <http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1995/nusslein-volhard-cv.html> (last accessed 1 Jun. 2016).
“Nüsslein–Volhard, Christiane” (2005), Encyclopedia of World Biography, encyclopedia.com, <http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3446400149.html> (last accessed 2 Jun. 2016).
Nüsslein–Volhard, Christiane (2008), “Women in science — passion and prejudice”, Current Biology, 18 (5), 185-87, <http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982208000997> (last accessed 2 Jun. 2016).
Swedin, Eric Gottfrid (2005), Science in the Contemporary World: An Encyclopedia, Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO, 211-12.
- “The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1995”, Nobelprize.org, Nobel Media AB 2014, <http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1995/> (last accessed 23 Jan. 2017).
- “Nüsslein-Volhard Lab”, ZFIN, The Zebrafish Model Organism database, <https://zfin.org/ZDB-LAB-971209-4> (last accessed 3 Jun. 2016).
- McGrayne, Sharon Bertsch (2002), Nobel Prize Women in Science: Their Lives, Struggles, and Momentous Discoveries, 2nd edition, Washington, DC, Joseph Henry Press.
- Resnik, Jack / Catherine May (16 Feb. 2012), “Christiane Nusslein-Volhard (1942- )”, The Embryo Project Encyclopedia, <https://embryo.asu.edu/pages/christiane-nusslein-volhard-1942#sthash.PguMjglu.dpuf> (last accessed 1 Jun. 2016).
- “Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard-Foundation” (2017), CNV Stiftung, <http://www.cnv-stiftung.de/fileadmin/user_upload/pdfs/Infoblatt_en_17.pdf> (last accessed 20 Jan. 2017).
- “Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, Genetic mechanisms – The 1995 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine” (2014), Nobelprize.org, Nobel Media AB, <http://www.nobelprize.org/educational/nobelprize_info/nusslein-volhard-edu.html> (last accessed 8 Feb 2017).
- “Past winners”, Rosentiel Medical Science Research Centre, Brandeis University, <http://www.brandeis.edu/rosenstiel/rosenstielaward/past.html> (last accessed 16 Jun. 2016).
- “Sketches of Sciences”, Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, <http://www.mediatheque.lindau-nobel.org/exhibitons/33551/sketches-of-science> (last accessed 14 Jun. 2016).