Davor Solter wins the Mendel Medal

The Genetics Society honours Emeritus Max Planck Director

January 28, 2022

Davor Solter receives the 2022 Mendel Medal from the Genetics Society. The former Director at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics Freiburg (1991-2006) is jointly honored with Azim Surani of the Gurdon Institute for their discovery of genomic imprinting. Their contributions were central to the foundation of a scientific field that later became famous as “epigenetics”. Their pioneering studies on mammalian genomic imprinting contributed to the understanding of several human developmental disorders.

The 2022 Mendel Medal goes to Davor Solter, Emeritus Director of the MPI of Immunobiology and Epigenetics. Solter is honoured for the discovery of the developmental process “Genomic Imprinting”. He receives the award from the British Genetics Society together with Azim Surani, Director at the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge (UK).

Establishing the concept genomic imprinting has been “pivotal for advances in epigenetics and mammalian development”, as the British Society puts it, and lead to the understanding of a variety of human diseases, such as the Beckwith-Wiedemann and Prader-Willi syndromes.

Genomic imprinting refers to the fact that in an individual the maternal and paternal origin of a genome – despite identical gene sequences – are not functionally equivalent. It has been shown that certain chromosome segments are modified in a sex-specific manner during development in the parental germ line, so that as a result only the maternal or the paternal allele of a gene is active in the somatic cells. This buries a potential health risk for the individual because if that gene is mutated, the copy from the other parent cannot step in to prevent disease.

Solter who was then at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, and Surani independently described this phenomenon in 1984 that started the field of epigenetics. Today, scientists across the globe are working towards understanding the molecular basis of imprinting, with a particular focus on epigenetic modifications of DNA and the mode of inheritance of such epigenetic marks.

Through his career Davor Solter has made significant contributions to many areas of mammalian developmental biology, including differentiation of germ layers, the role of cell surface molecules in regulating early development, the biology and genetics of teratocarcinomas, the biology of embryonic stem cells, and cloning.

CV Davor Solter

Davor Solter was born in 1941 in Zagreb, Yugoslavia. He received his M.D. in 1965 and Ph.D. in 1971 from the University of Zagreb. Between 1973-1991 he served as a professor at The Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology in Philadelphia, USA, and became Wistar Professor of Biology at the University of Pennsylvania, USA in 1984. In 1991, he was appointed Max Planck Director at the MPI of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg, Germany heading the Department of Developmental Biology until 2006. From 2008 to 2013, he held a professorship at the Singapore National University as part of a partnership with Duke University and became a Research Director of the Institute of Medical Biology at A*STAR in Singapore. Since 2014, he has been Visiting Professor at the Faculty of Medicine of the Mahidol University in Bangkok, Thailand. Davor Solter is the recipient of several international awards, including the March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology (1998), the Rosenstiel Award (2007) for outstanding work in Basic Medical Research by the Brandeis University, Boston (USA), and the Canada Gairdner International Award Prize (2018).

The Genetics Society and the Mendel Medal

The Genetics Society is a registered charity and was founded in 1919 as the world’s first society devoted to the study of the mechanisms of inheritance. It is also one of the world's oldest “learned societies”.  Famous founder members included Edith Rebecca Saunders, William Bateson, JBS Haldane and AW Sutton. The Society is run by an elected committee comprising entirely volunteers from the scientific community. Genetics Society Membership includes over 2,000 of the UK’s active professional geneticists, including teachers, researchers and students and is open to anyone with an interest in genetic research or teaching, or in the practical breeding of plants and animals. 

The Mendel Medal is named after Gregor Mendel (1822-1884), famous for his experiments on heredity in peas and founder of genetics as a scientific discipline. The Mendel Medal is awarded by the President of the Genetics Society, usually twice within the President’s term of office, to an individual who has made outstanding contributions to research in any field of genetics.

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