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Journal Article

The great small organisms of developmental genetics: Caenorhabditis elegans and Drosophila melanogaster


Nüsslein-Volhard,  C
Research Group Colour Pattern Formation, Max Planck Institute for Biology Tübingen, Max Planck Society;

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Kimble, J., & Nüsslein-Volhard, C. (2022). The great small organisms of developmental genetics: Caenorhabditis elegans and Drosophila melanogaster. Developmental Biology, 485, 93-122. doi:10.1016/j.ydbio.2022.02.013.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000A-3700-8
Experimental embryologists working at the turn of the 19th century suggested fundamental mechanisms of development, such as localized cytoplasmic determinants and tissue induction. However, the molecular basis underlying these processes proved intractable for a long time, despite concerted efforts in many developmental systems to isolate factors with a biological role. That road block was overcome by combining developmental biology with genetics. This powerful approach used unbiased genome-wide screens to isolate mutants with developmental defects and to thereby identify genes encoding key determinants and regulatory pathways that govern development. Two small invertebrates were the pioneers: the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster and the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Their modes of development differ in many ways, but the two together led the way to unraveling the molecular mechanisms of many fundamental developmental processes. The discovery of the grand homologies between key players in development throughout the animal kingdom underscored the usefulness of studying these small invertebrate models for animal development and even human disease. We describe developmental genetics in Drosophila and C. elegans up to the rise of genomics at the beginning of the 21st Century. Finally, we discuss themes that emerge from the histories of such distinct organisms and prospects of this approach for the future.