Developmental biology department to mark 100 years Oct. 21

The Department of Developmental Biology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis will celebrate its 100th anniversary Thursday, Oct. 21, with a symposium in the Moore Auditorium of the North Building.

The symposium, from noon to 5 p.m., is open to the public and will be followed by a reception in the Hearth Room of the Farrell Learning and Teaching Center.

Like other School of Medicine departments celebrating centennials this year, the department traces its roots to a 1909 critique of the School of Medicine known as the Flexner Report. Known as the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at its creation, it was renamed the Department of Molecular Biology and Pharmacology in 1991 and became the Department of Developmental Biology in 2008.

Six of the department’s former heads, faculty or alumni have won Nobel Prizes in physiology or medicine: Joseph Erlanger, MD; Herbert S. Gasser, MD; Carl F. Cori, MD; Gerty T. Cori, MD; Severo Ochoa, MD; Earl W. Sutherland Jr., MD; and Robert F. Furchgott, PhD.

“From Erlanger’s work identifying different types of nerve fibers, to the Coris’ groundbreaking studies of carbohydrate metabolism, to Furchgott’s identification of the role of nitric oxide in blood vessel relaxation, this has been a department whose faculty and students have a great history of excellence in discovery,” says Irving Boime, PhD, professor of developmental biology and of reproductive biology in obstetrics and gynecology.

Boime has been a faculty member in the department since 1972. His student mentor, F. Edmund Hunter Jr., PhD, published a history of the first seven decades of the department that has been reprinted for the celebration. Hunter, 94, plans to attend.

The speakers at the event will be:

  • Philip Needleman, PhD, interim president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, former Washington University professor and head of pharmacology, and former chief scientist and head of research and development of Monsanto/Searle/Pharmacia;
  • Eugene M. Johnson Jr., PhD, professor, Departments of Neurology and Developmental Biology;
  • Martin M. Matzuk, MD, PhD, professor, Department of Pathology, Baylor College of Medicine;
  • C. Michael Crowder, MD, PhD, Dr. Seymour and Rose T. Brown Professor, Department of Anesthesiology; and
  • Jeffrey I. Gordon, MD, the Dr. Robert J. Glaser Distinguished University Professor and director, Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology, and former head of Molecular Biology and Pharmacology.


“Our department’s research is exciting because its spans the course of human development, from the very early stages of embryogenesis and topics such as stem cells to the developmental and degenerative processes triggered by old age or disease,” says Lilianna Solnica-Krezel, PhD, professor and head of developmental biology.

Solnica-Krezel, appointed Jan.1, 2010, is making plans to expand the number of faculty in the department from 14 to 20.

“We’re looking forward to getting started on a second century just as exciting as the first,” she says. “We’ll continue exploring developmental issues in the context of disease, development and aging not only with established faculty but also with a new generation of talented young researchers.”