Hunting for the Genes Behind
Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Eric F. Wieschaus studied about 40 000 mutations and were able to identify 15 different genes that control the early phase of Drosophila's embryonic development (through continued research additional such genes have been found and today they are about 25). These genes caused defective segmentation when mutated, resulting e.g. in a reduced number of segments, in embryos consisting only of odd-or even-numbered segments or in segments with their head and tail ends looking similar.
Much of the embryonic development is controlled by the egg's own genes. They are divided into three functional groups which act as follows:
The three types of genes reflect a gradual refinement of Drosophila's developmental program. They come in three waves, one after the other - and it is a quick work, everything happens within hours!
Nüsslein-Volhard and Wieschaus published their important results 1980 in Nature. Their publication has had an enormous impact on how genes that control development are studied today. The paper is consequently regarded as a milestone in developmental biology.