Born: 20 October 1942, Magdeburg, Germany
Affiliation at the time of the award: Max-Planck-Institut für Entwicklungsbiologie, Tübingen, Federal Republic of Germany
Prize motivation: "for their discoveries concerning the genetic control of early embryonic development"
Field: developmental biology, embryology, genetics
Prize share: 1/3
Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard was born in Heyrothsberge, Germany, as one of five children in a large family. Her father was an architect and both her parents were interested in art and music. Aged just 12, Christiane decided to pursue a career in biology. She studied biology at Goethe University in Frankfurt, but later moved to Tübingen, where she studied biochemistry before undertaking graduate studies at the Max Planck Institute. She went on to work at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg before returning to the Max Planck Institute in Tübingen in 1984.
Among more advanced organisms, life begins when a fertilized egg divides and forms new cells which, in turn, also divide. Initially these cells appear identical, but in time, they begin to change. Some cells go to make up the heart, others nerve paths, and still others strands of hair, for example. Genes regulate this process. Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Eric Wieschaus studied the development of fruit flies and, around 1980, succeeded in identifying and classifying the 15 genes that direct the cells to form a new fly.