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Ruth Lehmann is president and director of the Whitehead Institute and professor of biology at MIT. Lehmann earned her undergraduate degree and a PhD in biology with Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard from the University of Tübingen, in her home country of Germany. She has conducted research at the University of Washington, the University of Freiburg, the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology and the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England, She was a Member of the Whitehead Institute Member and on the faculty of MIT from 1988-1996. She then moved to New York University (NYU), where she served in a number of leadership roles specifcially as the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Professor of Cell Biology and director of the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine (2006-2020) and from 2014-2020 as the Chair of the Department of Cell Biology at NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine. She also became an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 1990 and again in 1997.
Research in her laboratory focuses on reproductive biology. Germ cells, the cells that mature into egg and sperm are the only cells in the body with the potential to naturally generate a completely new organism. The lab has made important discoveries in understanding how germ cells are specified in the early embryo, migrate by lipid guidance and how they maintain the potential for totipotency while differentiating into egg and sperm in the adult. Most recently her lab used super-resolution imaging to determine a new principle by which RNAs self-sort within phase transitioned germ granules and identified mechanisms by which mitochondria are sequestered to germ cells and selected for quality during germline development.
Dr. Lehmann is a member of the American Academy of Arts Sciences (1998) and the National Academy of Sciences (2005), Associate (foreign) Member of EMBO (2012). She was awarded the Conklin Medal of the Society of Developmental Biology, was the inaugural recipient of the Klaus Sander Preiss of the German Society for Developmental and received the Keith Porter Award from the American Society of Cell Biology. Dr. Lehmann has been the President of the Society for Developmental Biology and will serve as President of the American Society for Cell Biology in 2021. She has served on the PEW Scholars and LSRF advisory boards and is editor in chief of the Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology.