Nüsslein-Volhard, Christane (1942-), a German geneticist, was the first German woman Nobel laureate in science. For discovering the genes that shape development in the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, she shared the 1995 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with American geneticists Edward B. Lewis and Eric Francis Wieschaus .
The daughter of architect Rolf Volhard and painter-musician Brigitte Volhard, Christiane studied biology, physics, and chemistry at the Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main (1962–1964). She earned a diploma in biochemistry from the Eberhard-Karls University in Tübingen (1964–1968) and a doctorate in biology at the University of Tübingen (1973). Having completed postdoctoral fellowships in Basel, Switzerland, and Freiburg, Germany, she began her collaboration with Wieschaus in the late 1970's at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg. In 1981, she returned to Tübingen, where since 1985 she has served as director of the genetics division of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology.
Wieschaus and Nüsslein-Volhard devised a new genetic tool, saturation mutagenesis, which involved mutating adult fly genes and observing the effects on their offspring. Using a dual microscope, which permitted them to view one specimen at the same time, the collaborators eventually identified, among the approximately 20,000 genes in the fly's chromosomes, approximately 5,000 genes important to early development and 139 genes essential to it. They also identified three types of fruit fly genes that generate the blueprint for the insect's body plan. In awarding the prize to the collaborators, the Nobel Assembly predicted that their discoveries would “explain congenital malformations in man.”
By the late 1990's her studies of zebra fish mutants had established a system for studying the process of blood formation and provided important insights into human disease.