Friday Evening Lecture Series – Segal Lecture – “The Development of Colour Patterns in Zebrafish: Towards an Understanding of the Genetic Basis of Morphological Variation”

Date(s) - 07/12/2013
8:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Lillie Auditorium

Friday Evening Lecture SeriesSegal Lecture – “The Development of Colour Patterns in Zebrafish: Towards an Understanding of the Genetic Basis of Morphological Variation”
Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology;
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1995
July 12, 2013, 8:00 PM, Lillie Auditorium

Introduction by Eric Wieschaus, Princeton University; Howard Hughes Medical Institute; Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1995

Nüsslein-VolhardLecture Abstract:
Darwin’s theory on the origin of species by means of natural selection rests on the assumption that in every generation the progenies are not exactly alike, but vary slightly. To identify genes that cause the variation of animal morphology in evolution, it is necessary to understand growth and development of form and pattern. While the genetic analysis of embryogenesis is well advanced, little is known about the developmental mechanisms shaping the postembryonic structures. As adults, much more than embryonic or larval forms are targets of selection during evolution, genes involved in adult patterning may provide an important basis for the divergence of forms and patterns in animals.

One of the most striking aspect of animals are colour patterns, they serve many functions such as UV light protection, camouflage but also kin recognition, shoaling, and sexual attraction. Colour patterns provide an important target for both natural and sexual selection as they evolve rapidly and vary between closely related species. Fishes develop beautiful and highly elaborate colour patterns, which arise from the mosaic-like distribution of pigmented cells of different colours in the skin. We study the development of the striped pattern of zebrafish, composed of longitudinal dark melanophore stripes alternating with light stripes of xanthophores. Iridophores, present in both stripes, render a shiny appearance to the pattern. This striking pattern develops during metamorphosis, replacing a much simpler larval pattern. We show that the first stripe follows a morphological prepattern, the horizontal myoseptum, to which further stripes are added while the fish grows. Mutants lacking one of the three cell types cannot form proper stripes indicating that patterning requires interactions between the pigment cells. We identified a number of long- and short-range interactions between the three different pigment cell types that are necessary for stripe formation.

The pigment cells are derived from the neural crest, a transient highly migratory embryonic tissue that evolved in the vertebrate phylum; neural crest derived structures contribute to many external and internal characteristics that allow vertebrates to be big and colourful. As the neural crest is long gone when the adult colour pattern develops, the adult pigment cells must be derived from stem cells that are established during early embryonic development. Our research focuses on the origin and migratory path taken by the pigment cells. Studying mutants with altered patterns, we analyse the molecular basis for the interactions between pigment cells with the aim is to identify genes involved in the evolution and divergence of colour patterns in vertebrates.

Dr. Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard is director of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany. Dr. Nüsslein-Volhard and her long-time collaborator Dr. Eric F. Wieschaus were awarded the 1995 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, sharing the honor with Edward B. Lewis, “for their discoveries concerning the genetic control of early embryonic development”.

Dr. Nüsslein-Volhard’s lab currently uses zebrafish as a model to study vertebrate development and investigates the genetic basis for the formation of the adult structures that arise during juvenile develop­ment with the aim to understand the genetic basis of morphological va­riation in evolution.

Dr. Nüsslein-Volhard grew up in post-World War II Frankfurt, Germany. At Eberhard-Karl University of Tübingen, she received a diploma in biochemistry in 1968 and a doctorate in genetics in 1973.  After completing postdoctoral fellowships in Walter Gehring’s laboratory in Basel, Switzerland and Klaus Sander’s laboratory in Freiburg, Germany, Dr. Nüsslein-Volhard was group leader at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory from 1978 to 1981, where she shared a lab with Dr. Wieschaus, and a group leader at Friedrich Miescher Laboratory of the Max Planck Society in Tübingen from 1981 to 1984.   In 1985 she became director at the Max Planck Institute of Developmental Biology.

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Dr. Nüsslein-Volhard has received many other awards, including the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award (1991) and the Prix Louis Jeantet de Médecine (1992).  She is the recipient of numerous honorary degrees including those from Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and the Rockefeller University. Dr. Nüsslein-Volhard is a member of numerous societies including a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences, a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a foreign member of the Royal Society, a member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), and a member of the Académie des Sciences, Paris. She was secretary general of the EMBO until 2009 and president of the Gesellschaft deutscher Naturforscher und Ärzte until 2008. She has been a member of the Senate of the Max Planck Society, the National Ethics Council of Germany, and several advisory boards and committees. From 2007 to 2012 she was a member of the Scientific Council of the European Research Council. Dr. Nüsslein-Volhard is president and founder of the Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard Foundation, which supports women in science.


About the Segal Lecture:

The Segal Lecture is held in memory of Sheldon J. Segal, former Chairman of the MBL Board of Trustees, an MBL visiting investigator, Vice President and Distinguished Scientist at the Population Council, and a leading authority on global population issues, family planning, and contraceptive technology. The Segal Lecture will take place annually, alternating years between the MBL and the Population Council in New York City.

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