2023 Wolpert Medal Winner: Jonathan Slack

Following the sad passing of one of the greats of Developmental Biology, Lewis Wolpert, the BSDB committee has decided to launch a new annual medal in his honour. Lewis was well known for his ability to distil our subject’s most engaging and fundamental problems into concise and well-grounded core concepts of Biology. This led to vastly important contributions to research in our field, but also to the communication of its problems to a broader audience. Through teaching, popular science writing and acting as a spokesperson for Science as a whole, Lewis inspired many of us into the deeper study of Developmental Biology. Therefore, our annual ‘Wolpert medal’ will be presented to an individual who has made extraordinary contributions to the teaching and communication of Developmental Biology.We are very happy to announce that the third winner of the BSDB Wolpert medal is Prof. Jonathan Slack from the University of Bath.

Jonathan Slack often modestly states that some of his greatest career achievements were his scientific progeny, and some of these are indeed very good (including Abigail Tucker on our current committee).  But another very special output from Jonathan, besides his science, has been his books, several of which have been very influential over many years:

From Egg to Embryo (1983/1991), was widely lauded as the best overview of developmental biology for those in the field in the 90s and noughties, and was essential reading for all grad students at the time.  Its clarity and breadth are still wonderful.

Egg and Ego: an almost true story of life in the biology lab  (1999), was the “follow up” and is a humous, ironic look at a particular time in science and how folk did/do science.  Most of the stories and the labs and PIs are real, and only thinly disguised.  Not many people would have had the “front” to write such a book, but it gives a fantastic, if slightly skewed, portrayal of how cell and developmental biology actually works in labs, and was very well read and received at the time.

More recently Jonathan has published a number of OUP mini books on dev biology related topics: A very short intro to “Stem Cells”(2012) and  “Genes” (2014), both with very recent 2nd editions.  These are semi-lay books and both are fantastic examples of how to distil lots of stuff into the essence of the topic.  Jonathan is masterful at this.

He is also sole author of a text book, Essential Developmental Biology” used by many dev biol programmes at Universities around the world as their course text book.  While not quite as popular as the Gilbert and Wolpert textbooks, this is a beautifully crisp read and about to enter its 4th Edn (for which Les Dale, another of Jonathan’s progenies in now co-author).

Jonathan was very successful as a scientist; indeed, the BSDB awarded him the Waddington medal in 2002 for his contributions in mesoderm induction, regenerative biology and his cell transdifferention research, but he has also been hugely influential through his books.  We think he is someone who is worthy of both the Waddington medal and the Wolpert medal.

  • Paul Martin
  • Jeremy Green
  • Philip Ingham

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