Salome G. Waelsch

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]

Life and scientific career

Gluecksohn-Waelsch was born in Danzig, Germany and studied chemistry and zoology in Königsberg and Berlin before she joined Spemann's laboratory at the University of Freiburg in 1928. In 1932 she received her doctorate for her work on the embryological limb development of Triton.[3] In the same year she married the biochemist Rudolph Schönheimer, with whom she escaped from Nazi Germany in 1933.

She went on to become a lecturer at Columbia University in 1936, bringing embryological acumen to Leslie Dunn's genetics laboratory. Gluecksohn-Waelsch, along with Conrad Hal Waddington, attempted to find mutations that affected early development and discover the processes that these genes affected. 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 otochord, which would normally have helped induce the dorsal-ventral axis. 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.[4]

In 1938, she acquired US citizenship, and after Schönheimer´s death in 1941 she married the neurochemist Heinrich Waelsch.

She left Columbia University in 1953 to commence a professorship in anatomy at the newly founded Albert Einstein College of Medicine (AECOM), where she held the chair of molecular genetics from 1963 to 1976. Emeritus status was conferred on her in 1978, but she kept on researching actively for many more years, publishing and participating in scientific conferences until the 1990s.

Gluecksohn-Waelsch´s scientific work was honoured late in life. In 1979, she became a member of the National Academy of Sciences, in 1982 the University of Freiburg honoured 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 in 1999. From 1968 to 1983 she collaborated with Carl Ferdinand Cori, winner of the 1947 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.[5]

She died a month after her 100th birthday in New York.[6]

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.[7]


Further research

  • Hyman, P.E./Moore, D.D., eds. 1998. Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge.
  • Gilbert, S.F., 2006. Developmental Biology. Massachusetts: Sinauer.
  • Scott F. Gilbert, Biography of Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch, Jewish Women Encyclopedia
  • Life, work and photo
  • website
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