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Steve Chaplin
IU Communications

Last modified: Wednesday, April 3, 2013

1995 Nobel winner Wieschaus to deliver Sonneborn lecture at IU Bloomington

Using fruit flies, the South Bend native led ground-breaking work in embryonic development

April 3, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Eric F. Wieschaus, the 1995 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine known for his groundbreaking work with the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, will deliver the 31st Tracy M. Sonneborn Lecture on April 16 at Indiana University Bloomington.

Eric Wieschaus

Eric Wieschaus

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A South Bend native who received his undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Notre Dame, Wieschaus will present the public lecture at 4 p.m. in Myers Hall Room 130. He holds a Ph.D. in biology from Yale University and is the Squibb Professor in Microbiology at Princeton.

Wieschaus received the Nobel Prize with Christiane "Janni" Nüsslein-Volhard and Edward B. Lewis for their discoveries concerning the genetic control of early embryonic development. The developmental biologists were able to identify and classify a small number of genes that are of key importance in determining the body plan and the formation of body segments.

Wieschaus and Nüsslein-Volhard established that genes controlling development could be systematically identified, that the number of genes involved was limited, and that they could be classified into specific functional groups. This encouraged a number of other scientists to look for developmental genes in other species, and in a relatively short time it was possible to show that similar or identical genes also existed in higher organisms and in man.

Three years after their research was published in 1980 in the journal Nature, researchers Matthew Scott and Amy Weiner, working in the Indiana University Bloomington laboratory of Distinguished Professor of Biology Thomas Kaufman, identified the homeobox in fruit flies, a DNA-binding gene sequence that encodes proteins, which tell cells what kinds of structures to make in various segments of a developing embryo. Shortly after that discovery, homeobox genes were quickly found in the genomes of mice and humans.

"Eric and his colleague Janni Nüsslein-Volhard bravely embarked on a screen for mutations in Drosophila that affected embryonic patterning," Kaufman said. "It is fair to say that the ground-breaking results of their screen were paradigm shifting in the way we think about the genetic regulation of developmental processes. Moreover, the impressive number of novel and previously unknown genes they identified created an entire new wave of investigation and seeded the careers of numerous young investigators. They did the seminal work that changed a field, and all three were richly deserving of this recognition."

The title of Wieschaus' lecture is "Cellular Mechanics and Cell Shape during Drosophila Gastrulation." Gastrulation is the process in which the basic body plan is laid out.

About the Tracy M. Sonneborn Lecture

Aside from a few years at Johns Hopkins University, where he received his Ph.D., Tracy Sonneborn (1905-1981) spent his entire career at Indiana University. His devotion to the study of Paramecium established him as the world leader in biology and genetics of Protozoa, and he is credited with founding the modern era of study in these areas. Following his death, friends established a lectureship in his memory, which has been supported since by the Sonneborn Lecture Fund and the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Biology.

For more information please contact Steve Chaplin, IU Communications, at 812-856-1896 or