Trudi Schüpbach and Eric Wieschaus: A shared passion for nature’s truth  pg. 2

Trudi and Eric in Olympia, Greece, attending a conference in 1978
Photo courtesy of Trudi Schüpbach, Ph.D.
Nüsslein-Volhard, director of the Department of Genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany, considers Wieschaus the most original scientist -- or, perhaps, artist -- she has ever met.

“He is singularly prepared to tackle new questions and unconventional approaches,” she explains. “He is fun, he is unconventional, and he is charming. Several people completely misjudged his intellect, based on his extremely kind and humble behavior, but he is without doubt one of the smartest people I know. ”

Wieschaus met Nüsslein-Volhard at the University of Basel in 1974, while completing his Ph.D. thesis from Yale. The pair discovered a mutual interest in Drosophila embryology and started working together.

Nüsslein-Volhard recalls their times in the lab with fondness. “Eric was loved by the technicians,” she says. “Every Sunday he brought a hot meal he had cooked to the lab, walking the 15 minutes through the woods with his big bag. I usually brought in a cake. When we had dull repetitive work to do, we listened to (Mozart’s opera) ‘The Magic Flute.’”

Wieschaus, who became fluent in German and French during his time in Switzerland, soon left to complete postdoctoral work at the University of Zurich. But he often returned to Basel to finish experiments and plan future studies with Nüsslein-Volhard.

“She was the single most important influence in my work,” he recalls. “And she’s still a close friend.”

In Zurich, Wieschaus began performing experiments on Drosophila with a graduate student named Trudi Schüpbach, who was working on the genetics of sex determination in the fruit fly. After countless late nights in the lab, their scientific collaboration developed into a close friendship -- and then into something more.

“It was proximity,” Wieschaus explains, his eyes crinkling at the corners as he shares an impish smile with his wife of 25 years. “We started as colleagues.”

Wieschaus and Schüpbach married in 1983 after taking faculty positions at Princeton.

Schüpbach, who received her Ph.D. from the University of Zurich, is professor of Molecular Biology at Princeton, where she studies the genetic and molecular mechanisms that cause developmental asymmetries in the Drosophila egg. She and Wieschaus are Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators and members of the National Academies of Science.

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