Well-known developmental biologist Ed Lewis began his decades of genetic research on fruit flies as an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota. He later became especially interested in a bizarre fruit fly mutation where a fly was born with an extra set of wings but no balance organs. He found that genes are arranged on fruit fly DNA in the same order as the body segments whose development they control, and that genes become active in a certain order during an embryo’s development.
His pioneering work on the genetic mechanisms that control early embryonic development in fruit flies led other scientists to look at analogous genes in higher organisms, all the way up to man. His research, along with that of two others, achieved a breakthrough that will help explain congenital defects in humans and that won them the 1995 Nobel Prize for Medicine.
Lewis, who taught biology at California Institute of Technology from 1948 until his retirement in 1988, is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Genetics Society of America, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His recognition includes the Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal, the Wolf Foundation Prize in Medicine, and an honorary doctor of sciences degree from the University of Minnesota in 1993 for his contributions in the field of developmental biology.