CAMBRIDGE, MA | December 18, 2020 – Scientists Ruth Lehmann and Gertrud M. Schüpbach have been awarded the 2020 Francis Amory Prize in Reproductive Medicine and Reproductive Physiology by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Lehmann, a cell biologist, and Schüpbach, a geneticist, have made discoveries that have significantly advanced their own fields and contributed to knowledge and progress in areas including DNA repair, embryonic development, RNA regulation, and stem cell research.
“Professors Lehmann and Schüpbach have investigated fundamental biological questions related to inheritance and early development,” said Academy President David Oxtoby. “Their shared use of cutting-edge research techniques, coupled with their innate curiosity, has allowed them to make breathtaking contributions to their respective fields and beyond.”
Lehmann, a developmental geneticist and cell biology researcher, is the Director of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and a Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She was elected to the Academy in 1998. Her research focuses on how germ cells carry genetic information from the parent to the embryo. Specifically, Lehmann has used fruit flies to demonstrate how germ cells attain their fate during early embryogenesis and how coordination between germ cells and somatic support cells preserves the germline’s ability for reproduction. Lehmann’s studies demonstrated the evolutionary conserved role of RNA regulation for germ cell fate and differentiation.
“It is such an enormous honor for me to receive the Amory Prize, which recognizes the importance of research in reproductive biology, an area of biology that has been the theme for my lab since the early 1990s,” said Lehmann. “It is a particular joy to share this recognition with my wonderful colleague and friend Trudi Schüpbach. Our work has long been connected through our fascination with the organization of the egg cell. In particular, we have been intrigued by the mechanisms responsible for conveying information, contained in the cytoplasm of the egg cell, such as localized RNAs, germ granules as well as mitochondria, that instructs embryonic development and is passed on to future generations, spanning the entire, perpetual germline lifecycle.”
Schüpbach, a geneticist, is the Henry Fairfield Osborn Professor Emerita of Biology and Professor Emerita of Molecular Biology at Princeton University. She was elected to the Academy in 1999. Her research focuses on the signaling pathways involved in embryonic development and illuminates how molecular mechanisms determine the major axis of the fruit fly embryo. Schüpbach’s discoveries include identifying the signaling pathway through which the oocyte relays the asymmetric position of the nucleus to the surrounding follicle cells in the ovary. This pathway involves the EGF receptor which has been widely studied in humans for its role in certain cancers. In organisms such as the fruit fly, the pathway provides the patterning information for the egg and embryo.
“I am excited and honored to be awarded this prize by the American Academy, and to share it with my longtime friend and colleague, Ruth Lehmann,” said Schüpbach. “Throughout my career I have been fascinated by the way eggs develop inside ovaries, and how they eventually support the formation of an embryo. Even though we have made some fundamental discoveries, there are still so many open questions in the field of reproductive physiology and genetics, and I hope this prize will encourage the younger scientists in our field to pursue this area of biology with the same amazement and reward that I was fortunate to experience throughout my career.”
Schüpbach has served as a faculty member at Princeton since 1990. She also previously served as an adjunct faculty member at the Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine at Rutgers University and an investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She received her PhD in biology from the University of Zurich.
Lehmann joined the Whitehead Institute for the second time in her career in 2020, after first serving as a faculty member from 1988 to 1996. Prior to her current role, she was director of the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine and the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Professor and Chair of the Department of Cell Biology at New York University Langone Medical Center and served twice as an investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Lehmann received her PhD in biology from University of Tübingen, Germany while carrying-out her thesis work at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology.
The Amory Prize, first awarded in 1940, is given to recognize outstanding achievements in medicine and reproductive physiology. It was last awarded in 2018 to Barbara Jean Meyer, a professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley.
Professors Lehmann and Schüpbach will accept the Amory Prize and deliver remarks at a virtual event hosted by the American Academy on February 3, 2021. Learn more about the award and register here.