The Heidelberg Screen for Pattern Mutants of Drosophila: A Personal Account

Eric Wieschaus, Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


In large-scale mutagenesis screens performed in 1979-1980 at the EMBL in Heidelberg, we isolated mutations affecting the pattern or structure of the larval cuticle in Drosophila. The 600 mutants we characterized could be assigned to 120 genes and represent the majority of such genes in the genome. These mutants subsequently provided a rich resource for understanding many fundamental developmental processes, such as the transcriptional hierarchies controlling segmentation, the establishment of cell states by signaling pathways, and the differentiation of epithelial cells. Most of the Heidelberg genes are now molecularly known, and many of them are conserved in other animals, including humans. Although the screens were initially driven entirely by curiosity, the mutants now serve as models for many human diseases. In this review, we describe the rationale of the screening procedures and provide a classification of the genes on the basis of their initial phenotypes and the subsequent molecular analyses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-46
Number of pages46
JournalAnnual review of cell and developmental biology
StatePublished - Oct 6 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cell Biology
  • Developmental Biology


  • Autobiography
  • Drosophila
  • Embryonic lethal mutations
  • Larval cuticle
  • Pattern formation
  • Saturation screens


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