Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch

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Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch (October 6, 1907 – November 7, 2007) was a German-born U.S. geneticist and co-founder of the field of developmental genetics,[1] which investigates the genetic mechanisms of development.[2]


Gluecksohn-Waelsch was born in Danzig, Germany to Nadia and Ilya Gluecksohn. She grew up in Germany between World War I and II, where her family faced hardships including her father's death in the 1918 influenza epidemic, severe post-war inflation, and intense anti-Semitic sentiment.[2][3]

She studied chemistry and zoology in Königsberg and Berlin before she joined Spemann's laboratory at the University of Freiburg in 1928. She commented on both Spemann's nationalist tendencies and prejudice against women scientists; prejudices she faced as a Jewish woman limited her career options in Germany.[2][3] In 1932 she received her doctorate for her work on the embryological limb development of aquatic salamanders.[4] In the same year she married the biochemist Rudolph Schönheimer, with whom she escaped from Nazi Germany in 1933.[3]

She went on to become a lecturer at Columbia University in 1936, bringing embryological acumen to Leslie C. Dunn's genetics laboratory, where she remained for 17 years.[3] Gluecksohn-Waelsch attempted to find mutations that affected early development and discover the processes that these genes affected.

In 1938, she acquired US citizenship, and after Schönheimer´s death in 1941 she married the neurochemist Heinrich Waelsch in 1943, with whom she had two children.[3]

Columbia University's policies would not allow her a faculty position, even after many productive years of research.[2] She left Columbia University in 1953 to commence a professorship in anatomy at the newly founded Albert Einstein College of Medicine (AECOM), where she became a full professor in 1958 and held the chair of molecular genetics from 1963 to 1976.[2] She received emeritus status in 1978, but continued researching actively for many more years, publishing and participating in scientific conferences until the 1990s.

She died a month after her 100th birthday in New York.[5]

Scientific career

Gluecksohn-Waelsch worked on the genetics of differentiation, the process by which unspecified cells from a fertilized egg adopt their various specific fates in development. As Gluecksohn-Waelsch combined the embryological expertise she had acquired at Spemann´s lab with methods of classical mouse genetics, she is considered the founder of mammalian developmental genetics.[6] She co-authored over 100 publications on developmental genetics.

Her research showed that mutations in the Brachyury gene of the mouse caused the aberrant development of the posterior portion of the embryo and she traced the effects of this mutant gene to the notochord, which normally patterns the dorsal-ventral axis.

From 1968 to 1983 she collaborated with Carl Ferdinand Cori, winner of the 1947 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.[7]

Awards and Honors

Gluecksohn-Waelsch´s scientific work was honored late in life. In 1979, she became a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1980.[8] In 1982 the University of Freiburg her with the "Goldene Promotion", and in 1993 American president Bill Clinton presented her with the National Medal of Science. She became an overseas member of the Royal Society in 1995 and was awarded the Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal for "a lifetime contribution to the science of genetics" in 1999.

In 2010, the Freiburg-based Spemann Graduate School of Biology and Medicine (SGBM) and the AECOM Department of Genetics introduced the Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch Prize for the best dissertation.[9]

See also

Hilde Mangold

Conrad Waddington


  1. Solter D. In Memoriam: Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch (1907–2007). Developmental Cell 2008; Vol.14 Issue 1:22-24. doi:10.1016/j.devcel.2007.12.018 [1]
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Scott Gilbert, "Salome Gluecksohn Waelsch", Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science: Pioneering Lives From Ancient Times to the Mid-20th Century. Eds: Marilyn Bailey Ogilvie, Joy Dorothy Harvey. 2000.
  4. Glücksohn, S.: Äußere Entwicklung der Extremitäten und Stadieneinteilung der Larvenperiode von Triton taeniatus Leyd. und von Triton cristatus Laur. Wilhelm Roux' Archiv f. Entwicklungsmechanik d. Organismen. Bd. 125, S. 341-405
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  6. Gilbert SF. Induction and the origins of developmental genetics. Dev Biol. 1991;7:181-206. PMID 1804213 online
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  9. Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch Preis erstmals vergeben (Universität Freiburg, German) [2]

Further research