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, which investigates the genetic mechanisms of development.
Gluecksohn-Waelsch was born in Danzig, Germany to Nadia and Ilya Gluecksohn. She grew up in Germany between World War I and II, where her family faced hardships including her father's death in the 1918 influenza epidemic, severe post-war inflation, and intense anti-Semitic sentiment.
She studied chemistry and zoology in Königsberg and Berlin before she joined Spemann's laboratory at the University of Freiburg in 1928. She commented on both Spemann's nationalist tendencies and prejudice against women scientists; prejudices she faced as a Jewish woman limited her career options in Germany. In 1932 she received her doctorate for her work on the embryological limb development of aquatic salamanders. 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 C. Dunn's genetics laboratory, where she remained for 17 years. Gluecksohn-Waelsch attempted to find mutations that affected early development and discover the processes that these genes affected.
In 1938, she acquired US citizenship, and after Schönheimer´s death in 1941 she married the neurochemist Heinrich Waelsch in 1943, with whom she had two children.
Columbia University's policies would not allow her a faculty position, even after many productive years of research. She left Columbia University in 1953 to commence a professorship in anatomy at the newly founded Albert Einstein College of Medicine (AECOM), where she became a full professor in 1958 and held the chair of molecular genetics from 1963 to 1976. She received emeritus status in 1978, but continued researching actively for many more years, publishing and participating in scientific conferences until the 1990s.
She died a month after her 100th birthday in New York City.
Gluecksohn-Waelsch worked on the genetics of differentiation, the process by which unspecified cells from a fertilized egg adopt their various specific fates in development. 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. She co-authored over 100 publications on developmental genetics.
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 notochord, which normally patterns the dorsal-ventral axis.
Awards and honors
Gluecksohn-Waelsch´s scientific work was honored late in life. In 1979, she became a member of the National Academy of Sciences. She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1980. In 1982 the University of Freiburg 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 for "a lifetime contribution to the science of genetics" in 1999.
- Solter D. In Memoriam: Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch (1907–2007). Developmental Cell 2008; Vol.14 Issue 1:22-24. doi:10.1016/j.devcel.2007.12.018
- Scott Gilbert, "Salome Gluecksohn Waelsch", Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia
- The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science: Pioneering Lives From Ancient Times to the Mid-20th Century. Eds: Marilyn Bailey Ogilvie, Joy Dorothy Harvey. 2000.
- Glücksohn, S.: Äußere Entwicklung der Extremitäten und Stadieneinteilung der Larvenperiode von Triton taeniatus Leyd. und von Triton cristatus Laur. Wilhelm Roux' Archiv f. Entwicklungsmechanik d. Organismen. Bd. 125, S. 341-405
- Pearce, Jeremy (November 15, 2007). "Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch, 100, Geneticist, Is Dead". Science. New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-09.
- Gilbert SF. Induction and the origins of developmental genetics. Dev Biol. 1991;7:181-206. PMID 1804213 online Archived 2006-10-31 at the Wayback Machine.
- Ginsberg, Judah (September 21, 2004). "Carl and Gerty Cori and Carbohydrate Metabolism". National Historic Chemical Landmark. American Chemical Society. Archived from the original on October 24, 2012. Retrieved August 28, 2012.
- "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter W" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 22, 2014.
- Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch Preis erstmals vergeben (Universität Freiburg, German)
- 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
- Citation for honorary DSc from Columbia University
- On The Shoulders of Giants: John Wheeler and Salome Waelsch obituary podcast transcript from Scientific American website