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Published December 10, 1999 | public
Journal Article

Blobel's Nobel: A Vision Validated


1980, the year that Christiane Nusslein-Volhard and Eric Wieschaus embarked on their Nobel Prize–winning screen for embryonic lethal mutants in Drosophila, in some ways marked the end of the Age of Beautiful Theories in biology, and the dawn of the Age of Ugly Facts (to paraphrase T. H. Huxley, whose view of a tragedy was "a beautiful theory murdered by an ugly fact" *). If Watson and Crick's double-helical model of the structure of DNA showed that imagination (with a sprinkling of data) could triumph over Nature, Nusslein-Volhard and Wieschaus's saturation mutagenesis showed that evolution can produce biological mechanisms of such unimaginable complexity that it would be useless, if not laughable, to try to intuit them a priori. Nature's imagination, it showed, usually far outstrips that of the human brain. The Awesome Power of Genetics combined with Molecular Biology had created a way to solve biological problems while making as few assumptions as possible, let alone having to construct hypotheses out of whole cloth.

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© 1999 by Cell Press.

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