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All Seminars are held in the Gavin De Beer Lecture Theatre, Anatomy Building, Thursday 1-2pm (unless otherwise stated)

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Prof Lewis Wolpert

Prof Lewis Wolpert

Lewis Wolpert is Emeritus Professor in Cell and Developmental Biology.

He originally took a degree in civil engineering and carried out research in soil mechanics, and then changed to cell biology at King's College. He has worked on the mechanics of cytokinesis, morphogenesis of the sea urchin embryo, regeneration in hydra, left right asymmetry, and has focussed on pattern formation in limb development. He has also been involved in interacting with the public in relation to science.


Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 1320
(Int: 31320)


My model for pattern formation is based on cell acquiring positional identities and then interpreting their positional values according to their genetic constitution and developmental history. We have recently argued that diffusing morphogens cannot reliable specify position. We still do not know how position is specified and recorded. Another problem related to growth plates. Our limbs grow independently for more than ten years, yet our limbs are reliably of similar length. I am considering how this can occur. A major project is the fourth edition of Principles of Development


1950 B.Sc.(Engineering) University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg,South Africa
1951 1952 Personal Assistant, Director, Building Research Institute, South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research
1955 D.I.C. (Soil Mechanics) University of London, Imperial College
1961 Ph.D. University of London, King's college
1960 1964 Lecturer in Zoology, King's College, University of London
1964 1966 Reader in Zoology (Cell Biology),King's College, University of London
1965 European Editor, Journal of Theoretical Biology
1966 Professor of Biology as Applied to Medicine at The Middlesex Hospital Medical School
1980 Fellow of the Royal Society
1985 Co Chief Editor, Journal of Theoretical Biology
1987 1992 President, British Society for Cell Biology
1990 C.B.E
1993 1998 Chairman, Committee on the Public Understanding of Science
1998 Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences
1999 Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
2003 Hamburger prize for education – American Soc.Dev.Biol.


1999 A living Hell - presenter 3 part series BBC TV@
1996 2003 A column in The Independent


Wolpert, L.& Alison Richards (1988) A Passion for Science, Oxford University Press
Wolpert, L (1991) The Triumph of the Embryo,, Oxford University Press
Wolpert, L. (1992) The Unnatural Nature of Science, Faber, London
Wolpert, L. & Alison Richards (1997) Passionate Minds, Oxford University Press
Wolpert, L. (1999) Malignant Sadness. The Anatomy of Depression, Faber, London
Wolpert,L (2006) Six impossible things before breakfast - the evolutionary origins of belief Faber
Wolpert, L., Jessell,T, Lawrene,P, Meyerowitz,E, Robertson,E, and Smith,J. Principles of development 2006 3rd edition OUP
Wolpert, L. (2009) How we Live and Why we Die: The Secret Lives of Cells. Faber and Faber, London, ISBN: 9780571239115


  • Wolpert, L. (1960) The mechanics and mechanism of cleavage. Int.Rev.Cytol.,10,163 216
  • Wolpert, L. & O'Neill, C.H. (1962) The dynamics of the membrane of
    Amoeba proteus with labelled specific antibody.
    Nature, 196, 1261 1266
  • Gustafson, T. & Wolpert, L. (1963) The cellular basis of morphogenesis and sea urchin development. Int.Rev.Cytol., 15, 139 214
    Wolpert, L. (1969) Positional information and the spatial pattern of cellular differentiation. J.Theoret.Biol., 25, 1 47
    325 36
  • Summerbell, D., Lewis, JH & Wolpert, L. (1973) Positional information in chick limb morphogenesis. Nature, 244, 492 6
  • Tickle, C., Summerbell, D. & Wolpert, L. (1975) Positional signalling and specification of digits in chick limb morphogenesis. Nature, 254, 199 202
  • Tickle, C., Alberts, B., Wolpert, L. & Lee, J. (1982) Local application of retinoic acid to the limb bond mimics the action of the polarizing region. Nature, 296, 564 565
  • Wolpert, L. & Hornbruch, A. (1987) Positional signalling and the development of the humerus in the chick limb bud. Development, 100, 333 338
  • Brown, N.A. & Wolpert, L. (1990) The development of handedness in left/right asymmetry. Development, 109 (1) 1 9
  • Kerszberg, M. & Wolpert, L. (1998) The origin of metazoa and the egg: a role for cell death. Journal of Theoretical Biology 193, 535 537
  • Wolpert, L. (1999) Is science dangerous? Nature, 398 ,281 282
  • Wolpert, L. (2001) Ethical link between IVF and stem-cell research. Nature, 413, 107-108
  • Bertocchini F, Skromne I, Wolpert L, Stern CD. 2004 Determination of embryonic polarity in a regulative system: evidence for endogenous inhibitors acting sequentially during primitive streak formation in the chick embryo. Development.31:3381-90.
  • Tabin,C and Wolpert,L 2007 Rethinking the proximodistal axis of the vertebrate limb in the molecular era. Genes and Development 21, 1433-1442
  • Kerszberg M, Wolpert L. 2007 Specifying positional information in the embryo: looking beyond morphogens. Cell, 130, 205-9.

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