Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard

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Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard (2007)

Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard (born October 20, 1942 in Heyrothsberge near Magdeburg ) is a German biologist and biochemist . She deals with genetic research and developmental biology and was director of the genetics department at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen from 1985 to 2014 . Since then, she has continued to lead a large emeritus research group with the title Color pattern formation at the same MPI . She received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1995 for her research on the genetic control of early embryonic development. Her name is sometimes abbreviated to CNV in specialist publications .


Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard (2007)

Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard was born on October 20, 1942 in Heyrothsberge near Magdeburg, the second of five children. Her father Rolf Volhard was an architect, her mother Brigitte Haas a kindergarten teacher. The chemist Jacob Volhard was her great-grandfather. She spent her youth in the house of her grandfather, the heart and kidney specialist Franz Volhard , near Frankfurt am Main , where her family had sought refuge after the war. She became interested in plants and animals at an early age and knew at the age of 12 that she wanted to become a biologist. Influenced by Konrad Lorenz and other behavioral researchers, she gave a lecture on language in animals at the graduation ceremony .

After graduating from the Schillerschule in Frankfurt, she began to study biology at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main in 1962 . In 1964 she switched to studying biochemistry at the Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen . Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard was married to the physicist Volker Nüsslein from 1967 to 1977. The childless marriage ended in divorce in 1977. The ex-husband later took the name of his second wife and became a college professor. Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard obtained her diploma in biochemistry in Tübingen in 1968 and from 1969 worked as a research assistant at what was then the Max Planck Institute for Virus Research in Tübingen . His doctorate in natural sciences was obtained from the University of Tübingen (1973) in genetics. Their main results were presented at the RNA polymerase meeting in Cold Spring Harbor . Regarding the personnel policy of this publication, she remarked in an interview: “I had done almost all the experiments and also wrote the essay. My doctoral supervisor said my fellow student should be at the front, he has a wife and child, he needs his career. "

As a postdoc, she worked on a research grant from 1975/1976 at Walter Jakob Gehring's laboratory in the Biozentrum Basel , where she began her research on biological gestalt formation. In 1977 she received a grant from the German Research Foundation (DFG) at the laboratory of insect embryologist Klaus Sander at the University of Freiburg im Breisgau .

From 1978 to 1980 she worked as a research group leader at the newly established European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg . There she worked with Eric F. Wieschaus , with whom she later received the Nobel Prize. She then headed a junior research group at the Friedrich Miescher Laboratory of the Max Planck Society in Tübingen (1981–1984) and in 1985 she became director and scientific member at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen. A year later, in 1986, she received the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize of the German Research Foundation , the highest honor in German research. This was followed by guest lecturer at the Harvard Medical School of Harvard University (1988, 1991), Yale University (1989), the Rockefeller University in New York (1991) and Indiana University (1994). She has held an honorary professorship at the University of Tübingen since 1991 .

Cuticle dissection of an embryo of Drosophila melanogaster, about 22 hours old. Anterior view with denticles. Anterior (the head) is on the left. 200 times magnification.

In 1995 she received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine together with Eric F. Wieschaus and Edward B. Lewis for her research on the genetic control of embryonic development . Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Eric Wieschaus identified and systematized genes that control the structure of the body plan and the segments in the fruit fly egg ( Drosophila melanogaster ). She developed the gradient theory, which illustrates how by material gradient in the egg and the embryo , the gene expression is controlled, and showed similarities in embryonic development between insects and vertebrates on. After the insects, the zebrafish ( Danio rerio ) became the first vertebrate to be the preferred subject of developmental work by Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard.

In 1998 Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard founded the biotechnology company Artemis Pharmaceuticals GmbH together with the long-time manager of Bayer AG , Peter Stadler, and the Cologne-based geneticist Klaus Rajewsky . It specialized in the development of genetically engineered drugs and aimed at going public in the medium term . Through the interim merger with Exelixis in 2001 and later with Taconic Farms in 2008, Artemis became part of Taconic Farms, Inc.

Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard was a member of the National Ethics Council from 2001 to 2007 . She has been Chancellor of the Pour le Mérite Order of the Federal Republic of Germany since 2013 .

In 2004 she founded the Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard Foundation , which aims to make childcare easier for talented young scientists through financial subsidies.

She lives in the Tübingen district of Bebenhausen .


Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard's research deals with the formation of forms and shapes in the development of animals. In the fruit fly Drosophila, she discovered and described numerous genes that control development and play a decisive role in shaping the embryo. The functions of some of these genes in the organism have been elucidated in molecular studies. New form-building mechanisms were demonstrated, such as gradients, in which morphogens are decisive factors determining the position in the egg. Comparisons between different organisms including humans have shown a high degree of relatedness in their genes. This underlines the importance of basic research on model organisms such as Drosophila for understanding aspects of human biology and medicine.

For about 15 years, Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard's group has also been working on the zebrafish ( Danio rerio ), which is an excellent new model system for investigating the formation of vertebrates. The development can be observed particularly well in the transparent embryo that develops outside of the maternal organism. New research deals with the processes of cell migration in organ development and with the development of the skin and its specializations. Other projects concern the genetic control of the development of the structures of adult fish such as color patterns, scales and fins.

One goal of this research is to find genes that play a role in the variation of shapes during evolution. There are more than 140 original publications in scientific journals.

The name Toll-like Receptors (TLR) is derived from a protein in Drosophila melanogaster , the discovery of which the research group around Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard was so enthusiastic about that they humorously named it after the German expression "toll". TLRs consist of proteins that resemble Toll, i.e. are toll-like. The moment that gave the great gene of the fruit fly its name was when she was sitting across from her colleague Eric Wieschaus at a double microscope that allows two people to examine the same object at the same time. “One day when we saw a mutant embryo whose development was ventralized, we were both completely surprised and spontaneously shouted 'great'. Until then we only knew dorsalized embryos ”.

Honors and memberships


  • About genes and embryos. Reclam, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-15-018262-X .
  • The Becoming of Life - How Genes Control Development. Beck, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-406-51818-4 .
  • When is a person a person? CF Müller, 2003.
  • Gradients as organizers of embryonic development. In: Spectrum of Science .
  • My cookbook. Insel, ISBN 978-3-458-06880-8 .
  • Coming to life: how genes drive development. Kales Press, USA 2006, ISBN 978-0-9670076-7-0 .
  • The beauty of animals: Evolution of biological aesthetics , Berlin: Matthes & Seitz 2017, ISBN 978-3-95757-457-2 .

Publications in specialist journals (selection)

  • C. Nüsslein-Volhard, E. Wieschaus: Mutations affecting segment number and polarity. Nature, 287, pp. 795-801 (1980).
  • W. Driever, C. Nüsslein-Volhard: A gradient of bicoid protein in the Drosophila embryo. Cell 54: 83-94 (1988).
  • D. St. Johnston, C. Nüsslein-Volhard: The Origin of Pattern and Polarity in the Drosophila Embryo. Cell, 68, pp. 201-219 (1992).
  • C. Nüsslein-Volhard: The identification of Genes controlling Development in Flies and Fishes. Les Prix Nobel, Stockholm 1996.
  • H. Knaut, C. Werz, R. Geisler, C. Nüsslein-Volhard (The Tübingen 2000 screen Consortium): A zebrafish homologue of the chemokine receptor Cxcr4 is a germ-cell guidance receptor. Nature 421 (6920) (2003), pp. 279-282.
  • D. Gilmour, H. Knaut, H.-M. Maischein, C. Nüsslein-Volhard: Towing of sensory axons by their migrating target cells in vivo. Nature Neurosci. 7 (5) (2004), pp. 491-492.

Popular science publications

  • From egg to organism. Yearbook of the Max Planck Society, Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Göttingen 1991, pp. 37–52.
  • The formation of new forms in the development of animals. Negotiation volume of the Society of German Natural Scientists and Doctors, 1993.
  • Gradients as organizers of embryonic development. Spectrum of Science, October 1996.
  • Genetics for gourmets. Open letter to Wolfram Siebeck. Die Zeit, November 1998.
  • I am not like the gods. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, February 2001.
  • When is an animal an animal and a person not a person? Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, October 2001.
  • About genes and embryos. Berlin Lesson, 2001.
  • Custom-made man - impossible. Süddeutsche Zeitung on the weekend, December 2001.
  • Women on the research front. Die Zeit, May 2002.
  • Desire for children - desired children. A pro for pre-implantation diagnostics. In: Emma , 2002.
  • Research on Human Embryos? In: Knoepffler, Schipanski (Ed.): Human biotechnology as a social challenge. Verlag Karl Alber, 2005, pp. 25-44.
  • Why animals look so different: From flies, fish and the formation of vertebrates. In: From the Big Bang to Consciousness. Negotiations of the Society of German Natural Scientists and Doctors, Georg Thieme Verlag, 2007, pp. 207–224.


Web links

Commons : Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Information from the Nobel Foundation on the 1995 award ceremony for Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard (English)
  2. Christiane Nuesslein: On the specific protein-nucleic acid interaction: The binding of RNA polymerase from E. coli to the replicative form DNA of the bacteriophage fd and the characterization of the binding sites. Dissertation. Eberhard Karls University, Tübingen 1973; published 1974.
  3. ^ Peter H. Seeburg , Christiane Nüsslein, Heinz Schaller : Interaction of RNA polymerase with promoters from bacteriophage fd. In: Eur J Biochem 74, 1977: 107-113. PDF.
  4. Andreas Sentker: How do you assert yourself, Ms. Nüsslein-Volhard? In: Die Zeit 5, January 23, 2020: p. 37.
  5. ^ Petra Nellen: Nüsslein-Volhard, Christiane. 2005, p. 1058.
  6. Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, Margit Lohs-Schardin, Klaus Sander, Christoph Cremer : A dorso-ventral shift of embryonic primordia in a new maternal-effect mutant of Drosophila. In: Nature 283, 5746, 1980: 474-476.
  7. Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, Eric Wieschaus: Mutations affecting segment number and polarity in Drosophila. In: Nature 287, 5785, 1980: 795-801.
  8. Custom Model Generation Solutions Management (English). Taconic Farms , Inc. website . Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  9. Hans Georg Frohnhöfer, Ruth Lehmann, Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard: Manipulating the anteroposterior pattern of the Drosophila embryo. In: Embryol Exp Morph 97 Suppl, 1986: 169-179. PDF.
  10. Thomas Berleth, Maya Burri, Gudrun Thoma, Daniel Bopp, Sibyll Richstein, Gabriella Frigerio, Markus Noll, Christiane Nusslein-Volhard: The role of localization of bicoid RNA in organizing the anterior pattern of the Drosophila embryo. In: The EMBO Journal . Volume 7, Number 6, June 1988, pp. 1749-1756, PMID 2901954 , PMC 457163 (free full text).
  11. Kerstin Howe, Matthew D Clark, Carlos F Torroja, (...), Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, Tim JP Hubbard, Hugues Roest Crollius, Jane Rogers, Derek L Stemple: The zebrafish reference genome sequence and its relationship to the human genome. In: Nature . Volume 496, number 7446, April 2013, pp. 498–503, doi : 10.1038 / nature12111 , PMID 23594743 , PMC 3703927 (free full text). → Correction in: Nature 505, ####, 2014: p. 248.
  12. Alessandro Mongera, Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard: Scales of fish arise from mesoderm. In: Curr Biol 23, 9, 2013: R338-R339. PDF.
  13. Ajeet Pratap Singh, Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard: Zebrafish stripes as a model for vertebrate color pattern formation. In: Curr Biol 15, 2, 2015: R81-R92. PDF.
  14. ^ Toll-like Receptor , German. Doctor Bl 2007; 104 (16): A-1072 / B-954 / C-908. Accessed June 8, 2020,
  15. Member entry by Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard (with picture and CV) at the German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina , accessed on July 15, 2016.
  16. Nüsslein-Volhard takes over the Pour-le-mérite chairmanship. Schwäbisches Tagblatt, Tübingen