Image of a cell

Salome G. Waelsch

  • National Medal of Science
  • Biological Sciences

For her lifetime of work on developmental genetics, providing a large body of knowledge on the study of mammalian genetics.

Born in Danzig, Germany, Salome G. Waelsch earned a Ph.D. in biology at the University of Freiberg, in Germany in 1932. She served as a research assistant in cell biology at the University of Berlin, but soon after fled to the U.S. as WWII was beginning. In the U.S., Waelsch faced another kind of discrimination– she was offered laboratory space at Columbia University without a salary. In spite of the difficulties faced by women in science, Waelsch went on to make major contributions in genetics.

In the 1930s, Waelsch’s research contributed to our understanding of the way genes determine how an embryo forms. Many geneticists at the time did not believe that genes — studied up to then only in the fruit fly — controlled the complex events of embryogenesis, Waelsch was the first to demonstrate that classical Mendelian genes directed the development of a mouse.

Waelsch’s work laid the foundation for future advances in developmental genetics, and proved vital to improving the understanding of birth defects, particularly understanding the cause of mistakes in the development process that result in defects.

By Jen Santisi