Edward B. Lewis

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Edward Lewis
Edward B. Lewis
Born Edward Butts Lewis
May 20, 1918
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
Died July 21, 2004 (aged 86)
Pasadena, California
Nationality American
Alma mater
Thesis A genetic and cytological analysis of a tandem duplication and its included loci in Drosophila melanogaster (1942)
Doctoral advisor Alfred Sturtevant
Known for Research into genetics of the common fruit fly
Notable awards

Edward Butts Lewis (May 20, 1918 – July 21, 2004) was an American geneticist, a corecipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.[3][4][5][6][7][8]

Education and early life[edit]

Lewis was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the second son of Laura Mary Lewis (née Histed) and Edward Butts Lewis, a watchmaker-jeweler. His full name was supposed to be Edward Butts Lewis Jr., but the parents forgot to fill out his birth certificate.[9]

Lewis graduated from E. L. Meyers High School. He received a BA in Biostatistics from the University of Minnesota in 1939, where he worked on Drosophila melanogaster in the lab of C.P. Oliver. In 1942 Lewis received a Ph.D. from California Institute of Technology (Caltech), working under the guidance of Alfred Sturtevant.[citation needed]

Career and research[edit]

After serving as a meteorologist in the U.S. Air Force in World War II, Lewis joined the Caltech faculty in 1946 as an instructor. In 1956 he was appointed Professor of Biology, and in 1966 the Thomas Hunt Morgan Professor of Biology.

His Nobel Prize–winning studies with Drosophila, (including the discovery[citation needed] of the Drosophila Bithorax complex and elucidation of its function), founded the field of developmental genetics and laid the groundwork for our current understanding of the universal, evolutionarily conserved strategies controlling animal development. He is credited with development of the complementation test. His key publications in the fields of genetics, developmental biology, radiation and cancer are presented in the book Genes, Development and Cancer, which was released in 2004.

During the 1950s, Lewis studied the effects of radiation from X-rays, nuclear fallout and other sources as possible causes of cancer. He reviewed medical records from survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as radiologists and patients exposed to X-rays. Lewis concluded that "health risks from radiation had been underestimated". Lewis published articles in Science and other journals and made a presentation to a Congressional committee on atomic energy in 1957.[10]

At the scientific level of the debate, the crucial question was whether the "threshold theory" was valid or whether, as Lewis insisted, the effects of radioactivity were "linear with no threshold", where every exposure to radiation had a long-term cumulative effect.[11]

The issue of linearity versus threshold re-entered the debate on nuclear fallout in 1962, when Ernest Sternglass, a Pittsburgh physicist, argued that the linearity thesis was confirmed by the research of Alice Stewart.[12] (See also John Gofman )

On November 20, 2001 Lewis was interviewed by Elliot Meyerowitz in the Kerckhoff Library at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California. This interview was released on DVD in 2004 as "Conversations in Genetics: Volume 1, No. 3 - Edward B. Lewis; An Oral History of Our Intellectual Heritage in Genetics" 67 min; Producer Rochelle Easton Esposito; The Genetics Society of America.

Awards and honors[edit]

Lewis received numerous awards and honours during his career including the Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal in 1983, the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize in 1992, the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 1991 and the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1995.[13][14][15][16] He was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) in 1989.[2][17] He was also awrded the Gairdner Foundation International award in 1987, the Wolf Foundation prize in medicine in 1989, the Rosenstiel award in 1990 and the National Medal of Science in 1990.[citation needed]


  1. ^ http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1995/lewis-facts.html
  2. ^ a b "Fellows of the Royal Society". London: Royal Society. Archived from the original on 2015-03-16. 
  3. ^ Crow, James F; Bender, Welcome (2004), "Edward B. Lewis, 1918-2004.", Genetics (Dec 2004) 168 (4): 1773–83, PMC 1448758, PMID 15611154 
  4. ^ Duncan, Ian; Celniker, Susan E (2004), "In memoriam: Edward B. Lewis (1918-2004).", Dev. Cell (Oct 2004) 7 (4): 487–9, doi:10.1016/j.devcel.2004.09.005, PMID 15469837 
  5. ^ Mishra, Rakesh K (2004), "Edward B Lewis (1918-2004).", J. Biosci. (Sep 2004) 29 (3): 231–3, doi:10.1007/bf02702605, PMID 15381844 
  6. ^ Winchester, Guil (2004), "Edward B. Lewis 1918-2004.", Curr. Biol. (Sep 21, 2004) 14 (18): R740–2, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.09.007, PMID 15380080 
  7. ^ Scott, Matthew P; Lawrence, Peter A (2004), "Obituary: Edward B. Lewis (1918-2004).", Nature (Sep 9, 2004) 431 (7005): 143, doi:10.1038/431143a, PMID 15356617 
  8. ^ Caltech obituary of Edward Lewis
  9. ^ http://www.amphilsoc.org/sites/default/files/proceedings/1500213.pdf
  10. ^ Edward Lewis, Nobelist Who Studied Fly DNA, Dies at 86
  11. ^ Gerald H. Clarfield and William M. Wiecek (1984). Nuclear America: Military and Civilian Nuclear Power in the United States 1940-1980, Harper & Row, New York, p. 225.
  12. ^ Gerald H. Clarfield and William M. Wiecek (1984). Nuclear America: Military and Civilian Nuclear Power in the United States 1940-1980, Harper & Row, New York, p. 228.
  13. ^ Tannen, Terrell (2004), "Edward B. Lewis.", Lancet 364 (9435): 658, doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(04)16878-5, PMID 15341018 
  14. ^ Raju, T N (2000), "The Nobel chronicles. 1995: Edward B Lewis (b 1918), Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard (b 1942), and Eric Francis Wieschaus (b 1947).", Lancet (Jul 1, 2000) 356 (9223): 81, doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(05)73417-6, PMID 10892797 
  15. ^ Vennström, B; Lagerkrantz, H (1995), "The 1995 Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology--awarded Edward B. Lewis, Christiane Nusslein-Volhard and Eric Wieschaus", Ugeskr. Laeg. (Dec 11, 1995) 157 (50): 6999–702, PMID 8545917 
  16. ^ Etcheverry, G J (1995), "Nobel prize of physiology or medicine 1955: Edward B. Lewis, Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, Eric Wieschaüs. The flies and the keys of the embryonic development", Medicina (B Aires) 55 (6): 715–7, PMID 8731586 
  17. ^ "Fellowship of the Royal Society 1660-2015". Royal Society. Archived from the original on 2015-07-15.