For his Nobel Prize winning identification of genes responsible for controlling embryonic development and their impact on tumorigenesis, and for conducting large-scale mutagenesis screens in Drosophila melanogaster to identify genes responsible for embryonic patterning and development.
A distinguished leader in the field of developmental biology, Dr. Wieschaus identified the genes responsible for controlling embryonic development, elucidating evolutionary conserved pathways that would prove critical in understanding tumorigenesis. He and his colleagues were among the first to carry out large-scale mutagenesis screens in Drosophila melanogaster to identify the genes responsible for embryonic patterning and development. Previous mutant screens in bacteria and yeast had shown to be powerful in identifying protein products that when mutated, impaired normal functions. The larval stage of Drosophila provided the ideal model due to the regular segments found on the epidermal cuticle that were composed of dentricles, visible along the dorsal-ventral axis. Together with Dr. Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, they developed a large-scale mutagenesis screen, using ethyl methanesulfonate (EMS) as a mutagen, that resulted in the landmark publication “Mutations Affecting Segment Number and Polarity in Drosophila”. Commonly referred to as the “The Heidelberg Screen”, this saturation screen resulted in the characterization of 600 mutants that were assigned to 120 genes, 15 of these specific for segmentation- three gap genes, six pair-ruled genes and six segment polarity genes. Important for the understanding of Drosophila development, this screen has proven also critical for the understanding of development across other species, including humans. The impact of this work was recognized with the 1995 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Several of the genes identified through these groundbreaking screens, in addition to being associated with inherited birth defects in humans, have also been shown to play a major role in cancer development. These screens would also aid in the characterization of the segment polarity gene Wingless (Wg), which would lay the foundation for this novel pathway. Notably, Dr. Wieschaus and his team elucidated the basic features of the Wnt signaling pathway, which has since been implicated in tumor development and metastasis. Among his contributions, he has demonstrated that Wnt signaling regulates levels and cellular localization of beta-catenin.
2018 Lifetime Achievement Award, Developmental Biology-Society for Developmental Biology
2012 Großes Verdienstkreuz mit Stern der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Berlin, Germany
2011 Orden Pour Le Merit, Berlin, Germany
2007 Elected President, Society for Developmental Biology
2006-2015 Merit Award, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), National Institutes of Health
2005 Wilbur Lucius Cross Medal of the Yale Graduate School Alumni Association
2003 Hall of Honor Inductee, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), National Institutes of Health
1999 Gregor Mendel Medal, Genetics Society, United Kingdom
1999 External Scientific Member, Max Planck Society
1997 Elected Member, American Philosophical Society
1995 Genetics Society of America Medal, Genetics Society of America
1995 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
1994 Elected Member, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC
1993 Elected Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciencess