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The First Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch Prize Laureate

Freiburg, Dec 21, 2010

The First Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch Prize Laureate

The winner of the Salome-Gluecksohn-Waelsch Prize Markus Mordstein with the Nobel Laureate Robert Huber and the leader of the SGBM, Christoph Borner.


This year marks the first time that the Spemann Graduate School of Biology and Medicine (SGBM) at the University of Freiburg and the Department of Genetics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York will be awarding the Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch Prize for the best doctoral dissertation in biomedical sciences at the Spemann Graduate School.

The laureate will be invited to travel to New York and present his or her work at a seminar at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. While other prizes may come with a big endowment, the aim of this award is to explicitly further the exchange of ideas, to build bridges and open doors for promising scientists at the start of their career. The first laureate is Dr. Markus Mordstein who did his doctoral work under the supervision of Prof. Peter Staeheli in the Department of Virology at the University of Freiburg. His dissertation was entitled “The antiviral role of Interferon-λ in the mouse”.

The prize commemorates the life and achievements of Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch, who had overcome enormous adversities to become a leading geneticist of the 20th century and the first to formulate the synthesis of experimental embryology and genetics that lies at the core of developmental genetics. Readers who are familiar with Gluecksohn-Waelsch’s remarkable life may be somewhat surprised that a program named after the experimental embryologist Hans Spemann should name the prize awarded to the most promising doctoral thesis after her, given that Spemann himself largely failed to recognise the genius of his graduate student and that Gluecksohn-Waelsch considered her PhD thesis on the development of limbs in newts rather menial work. Having said that, Gluecksohn-Waelsch has arguably been Spemann’s most effective critic and it is exactly the dialectic nature of the scientific method that has led to the advancement of our understanding of the natural world. Her outstanding contributions to science and the manner in which she came to reach them are truly worth praising and celebrating.

Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch was born in 1907 in Danzig (Gdansk) and died in New York City in 2007. She had studied zoology and chemistry in Koenigsberg (Kaliningrad) and Berlin before moving to Freiburg in 1928 to work on her doctoral dissertation under Spemann’s supervision. Gluecksohn-Waelsch had the fundamental insight into the role of genes directing embryonic development much earlier than most of her colleagues, Spemann included.

In 1932 Gluecksohn-Waelsch received her doctorate from the University of Freiburg and took up a position at the University of Berlin. Hitler’s rise to power only a few months later made life in Germany untenable. She and her husband Rudolf Schoenheimer fled to New York as soon as they could. For many years she worked as a simple research associate in Leslie Dunn’s team of mouse geneticists at Columbia University while publishing numerous breakthrough articles and laying the foundations for developmental genetics. Particularly her work on birth defects in mice with mutations in the T-locus gene (also known as brachyury) had demonstrated the applicability of genetics to the field of developmental biology, thereby making her a pioneer of both disciplines.

For further information, please refer to
Dr. Lise Leclercq
Spemann Graduate School of Biology and Medicine
University of Freiburg
Tel.: 0761/203-9636


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