February 24, 2022
Whitehead Institute Director Ruth Lehmann has been awarded the 2022 Gruber Genetics Prize – one of the most prestigious recognitions in the field of genetics – along with fellow developmental biologists James Priess of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Geraldine Seydoux of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
The Prize was awarded for the trio’s independent, pioneering discoveries on the molecular mechanisms underlying the earliest stages of embryonic development. In announcing the award, the Gruber Foundation explained that, taken together, the scientists’ work has transformed the field of germ cell biology, uncovering answers to one of the most fundamental questions in genetics: how germ cells – the precursors of eggs and sperm – faithfully transmit genetic information across generations.
“As a result of their curiosity, innovation, and remarkable insights, each of these phenomenal scientists has played a pivotal role in unlocking the molecular mysteries of early embryonic development,” says Eric Olson, professor at UT Southwestern and member of the Gruber Prize selection advisory board. “It’s not an overstatement to say that their genetic findings regarding germ cells have helped to revolutionize modern developmental biology.”
“I am extraordinarily grateful to the Gruber Foundation for selecting me as a recipient of the Gruber Prize in Genetics,” says Lehmann, who is also a professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It is particularly delightful to share this award with James Preiss and Geraldine Seydoux, who are wonderfully insightful and creative scientists.
“I am also thrilled to be in the company of two Whitehead Institute colleagues who have received the Gruber Prize: Founding Member Rudolf Jaenisch, who won the inaugural Prize in 2001; and Founding Member and former Institute director Gerald Fink, who won it in 2010.”
Working primarily with the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, Lehmann made landmark discoveries regarding the composition, assembly and function of germplasm within the embryo. Her research has contributed to the first genetic framework for the specification of germ cell fate in any organism. She also helped uncover how oocyte mitochondria avoid transmitting mutations within their small genomes to offspring and how they associate with germplasm and primordial germ cells. Priess and Seydoux used a different model organism—the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans—in their research.
The Gruber Foundation established and awarded its first Genetics Prize in 2001. It was the world’s first major international prize devoted specifically to achievements in the realm of genetics research – and remains one of the most prestigious prizes in the field. It is awarded under the guidance of an international advisory board of distinguished scientists.