01/30/2004 08:00:00

Caltech Nobel Laureate Ed Lewisto be Feted at Campus Celebration

PASADENA—Edward Lewis, who pioneered the modern understanding of how genes regulate the development of specific regions of the body, will be honored at a special celebration on the California Institute of Technology campus at 4 p.m. Wednesday, February 4.

A member of the Caltech faculty, Lewis won the Nobel Prize in 1995 in physiology or medicine for his seminal work on fruit fly mutations, which led to a fundamental understanding of the relation between genes and embryonic development in humans as well as flies. Currently the Morgan Professor of Biology, Emeritus, Lewis continues an active fruit-fly research regimen that began when he was a high school student in the 1930s.

Guest lecturer Howard Lipshitz will present "From Fruit Flies to Fallout: Ed Lewis and His Science." A colleague of Lewis's for the last two decades, Lipshitz is editor of the new book Genes, Development, and Cancer: The Life and Work of Edward B. Lewis, which was published in the USA this month by Kluwer Academic Publishers in Norwell, Mass.

According to the publisher, Lewis's scientific research "is the bridge linking experimental genetics as conducted in the first half of the 20th century, and the powerful molecular genetic approaches that revolutionized the field in its last quarter." Much less widely known are Lewis's contributions to understanding the links between ionizing radiation and cancer, as well as the closely related issues concerning nuclear-weapons testing policy.

A native of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Lewis earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Minnesota in 1939, and his Ph.D. at Caltech, where he has been on the faculty ever since, except as a U.S. Army Air Corps meteorologist in the Pacific theatre during World War II.

In the 1950s Lewis played a key role in discovering and explaining the role of homeotic genes--that is, genes that influence how the undifferentiated cells in a fertilized embryo separate into a head and a tail end, and how the eyes, legs, antennae, and other organs all form in their correct positions.

These genes are "highly conserved," as geneticists say, because the genes are similar in all organisms and play a role in the development of all animals, from fruit flies to mice to humans.

The lecture will be held in 119 Kerckhoff (the Norman Davidson Lecture Hall) on the west side of campus. Parking is available in the nearby parking structure on Wilson Avenue.

Written by Robert Tindol