Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard

Banquet speech

Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1995

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is not easy to express how I feel at this time, which is truly a high point in my career as a scientist. First, let me say that it is a very great pleasure to share this tremendous honor with Eric Wieschaus and Edward Lewis. I have known and admired Ed for a long time as one of the true pioneers in the field of developmental genetics. And Eric is a particularly close friend and collaborator, with whom I spent three of the most stimulating and productive years of my life – working together intensively in the same tiny laboratory.

The three of us have worked on the development of the small and totally harmless fruitfly, Drosophila. This animal has been extremely cooperative in our hands – and has revealed to us some of its innermost secrets and tricks for developing from a single celled egg to a complex living being of great beauty and harmony. We started out in our research with a deep interest in understanding the origin and development of pattern during embryogenesis. None of us expected that our work would be so successful or that our findings would ever have relevance to medicine. But it has now become apparent that at least some of the fundamental principles we learned from the fly apply to higher vertebrates as well, including humans. As Goethe put it:

Alle Glieder bilden sich aus nach ewgen Gestzen –
und die seltenste Form bewahrt im Geheimen das Urbild.

Another thing I would like to say: although the work we did was often tedious and sometimes frustrating, it was generally great fun and a deep pleasure and joy to get an understanding to what seemed initially to be a great mystery.

We want to express our sincere gratitude to the people who supported us during those years, when few people saw any future in poking thousands of tiny Drosophila embryos. Special thanks must go to the international and national organisations, such as the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, the Max Planck Society, and the National Institute of Health, who had the courage to fund research of young people with more enthusiasm than reputation and with more passion for solving century old problems than strategies for funding their research. And finally our sincerest thanks to the Nobel Foundation, and the Nobel committee for bestowing upon us this prize – they are honoring not only the three of us, but basic research more generally and the intellectual drive to understand the fundamental principles of nature.

From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1995, Editor Tore Frängsmyr, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1996

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1995

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