The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 53: 659 - 662 (2009)

Vol 53, Issue 5-6

Special Issue: Pattern Formation

Diffusible gradients are out - an interview with Lewis Wolpert

Interview | Published: 8 June 2009

Michael K. Richardson*

Institute of Biology, Leiden University, Leiden, The Netherlands


In 1969, Lewis Wolpert published a paper outlining his new concepts of "pattern formation" and "positional information". He had already published research on the mechanics of cell membranes in amoebae, and a series of classic studies of sea urchin gastrulation with Trygve Gustavson. Wolpert had presented his 1969 paper a year earlier at a Woods Hole conference, where it received a very hostile reception: "I wasn’t asked back to America for many years!". But with Francis Crick lining up in support of diffusible morphogen gradients, positional information eventually became established as a guiding principle for research into biological pattern formation. It is now clear that pattern formation is much more complex than could possibly have been imagined in 1969. But Wolpert still believes in positional information, and regards intercalation during regeneration as its best supporting evidence. However, he and others doubt that diffusible morphogen gradients are a plausible mechanism: "Diffusible gradients are too messy", he says. Since his retirement, Lewis Wolpert has remained active as a theoretical biologist and continues to publish in leading journals. He has also campaigned for a greater public understanding of the stigma of depression. He was interviewed at home in London on July 26th, 2007 by Michael Richardson.


positional information, Wolpert L., pattern formation, chick limb, Richardson M.K.

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