Edward B. Lewis
Wolf Prize Laureate in Medicine 1989
Edward B. Lewis
Affiliation at the time of the award:
California Institute of Technology, USA
“for his demonstration and exploration of the genetic control of the development of body segments by homeotic genes”.
Professor Edward B. Lewis, as a scholar and experimental scientist, has no peer in his field. With exemplary insight originality, personal commitment and ingenuity he pursued the genetic of morphogenesis in Drosophila for some four decades. During three of these decades his work attracted comparatively little attention, but this lack of trendiness did not discourage him. In recent years the rest of biology began to follow Lewis in his interest in homeatic genes, leading to the most important advances in developmental genetics in this time. These advances were fostered not only by Lewis insights but also by his wonderful generosity in providing stocks and counsel to all interested colleagues.
Lewis studied and continues to study homeotic genes, identified by mutations which change the body plan of the fly leading to the formation of body parts at ectopic sites. He concluded that the function of the Mild type genes must be the control of normal organization of the body, a conclusion that has been supported widely since. Lewis identified the Bithorax Complex (BX-C) as a major locus composed of several homeotic genes that are critical for the establishment of seg8ental identity in the fly. The extensive genetic characterization of the BX-C by Lewis encouraged David Hogness and his colleagues to choose this locus as the target for the first attempts at cloning of homeotic genes. The technique-s and concepts developed in the ensuing collaboration of the Lewis and Hogness laboratories have guided the entire field since then. One of the 1IIDSt important consequences of this work, and one that Lewis predicted in a general way long ago, was the finding of a region of homology between many homeotic genes, the so-called homebox. The study of homeotic genes and homeodomain-containing proteins is one of the most active areas in biology today and it owes its origins and growth to the remarkable work of Lewis.