Wieschaus, Eric Francis (1947-), an American biologist, has studied how genes affect early embryo development. For this work, he shared the 1995 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with biologists Edward B. Lewis of the United States and Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard of Germany.
In the late 1970's, Wieschaus and Nüsslein-Volhard teamed up to investigate how individual cells in a fertilized egg develop into specialized segments of the fruit fly. The two scientists chose to study Drosophila melanogaster, or fruit flies, because the insect breeds rapidly. Through painstaking experiments with thousands of fruit flies, they were able to identify the genes that created the specific organs and body segments, such as the wings and legs. They also isolated the genes that caused congenital defects in the flies.
Researchers have found that Wieschaus and Nüsslein-Volhard's work applies to humans as well. Scientists have discovered that some of the same genes they discovered play essential roles in human development. Further studies may provide an understanding of what causes some miscarriages and birth defects. Additional applications include improving in vitro fertilization techniques and learning what substances may be harmful to an early pregnancy.
Wieschaus received a B.S. degree from the University of Notre Dame in 1969 and a Ph.D. degree from Yale University in 1974. From 1975 to 1978, he served as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Zürich. For the next three years, he worked in the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, where he collaborated with Nüsslein-Volhard. In 1981, Wieschaus was appointed assistant professor at Princeton University. He was later promoted to associate professor and in 1987, he became professor of molecular biology.