Peter Anthony Lawrence

Peter Anthony Lawrence FRS (born 23 June 1941) is a British developmental biologist at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology and the Zoology Department of the University of Cambridge.[7][8] He was a staff scientist of the Medical Research Council from 1969 to 2006.[4][9][10][11]

Peter Lawrence

Peter Anthony Lawrence

(1941-06-23) 23 June 1941[1]
EducationWennington School
Alma materUniversity of Cambridge (BA, PhD)
Known forWork on Drosophila melanogaster[2]
Birgitta Haraldson (m. 1971)
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Cambridge
Laboratory of Molecular Biology
ThesisThe determination and development of hairs and bristles in the milkweed bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus Dall) (1966)
Doctoral advisorVincent Wigglesworth[3]
InfluencesFrancis Crick[4]
Max Perutz[3][5][6]


Lawrence was educated at Wennington School[1] in Wetherby, and then at St Catharine's College, Cambridge on a Harkness Fellowship; he gained his doctorate as a student of Vincent Wigglesworth[3] for work on Oncopeltus fasciatus (milkweed bug)[12]

Career and research

Lawrence's main discoveries lie in trying to understand what type of information is required to shape an animal and generate a pattern (such as on a butterfly wing or a fingerprint). He is the principal advocate of the idea that cells in a gradient of a morphogen develop according to their local concentration of the morphogen and that this mechanism is used to generate patterns of cells. Together with Ginés Morata, he has helped establish the compartment theory first proposed by Antonio Garcia-Bellido. In this hypothesis, a set of cells collectively builds a territory (or "compartment"), and only that territory, in the animal. As development proceeds, a "selector gene" switches on in a subset of this clone of cells, and the clone becomes divided into two sets of cells that construct two adjacent compartments. Much of the evidence for the theory comes from studies on the Drosophila fly wing.[13]

For the last twenty years he has been working, in collaboration with Gary Struhl on the development of the adult abdomen of Drosophila, with the aim of understanding the design and construction of the epidermal patterns, particularly planar polarity and cell affinity.[14] His research has been funded by the MRC and the Wellcome Trust.[3]


Lawrence wrote The Making of a Fly in 1992,[1][2] which explains how the body plans of flies and higher animals, like humans, are constructed. The book received "further" recognition in April 2011 when fellow biologist Michael Eisen discovered two booksellers were programatically setting increasingly higher prices for copies of the book on's used book market. The sellers eventually priced copies over $23 million before the feedback loop was broken.[15][16][17][18]

Lawrence has also written commentaries on the ethics of science practice,[19][20][21][22] and collaborated with Mark Bretscher on the obituary of Francis Crick published in Current Biology.[5][6]

Awards and honours

Lawrence was awarded membership of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO).[23] He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1983, awarded the Darwin Medal, and was a recipient of the Prince of Asturias Prize for scientific research. He was elected a Foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 2000.[3]

Personal life

Lawrence married Birgitta Haraldson in 1971,[1] a clinical psychologist and expert on autism.


  1. "LAWRENCE, Peter Anthony". Who's Who. 2013 (online Oxford University Press ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. (subscription or UK public library membership required) (subscription required)
  2. Lawrence, Peter (1992). The making of a fly: the genetics of animal design. Oxford: Blackwell Science. ISBN 978-0-632-03048-4.
  3. Vicente, Catarina (2016). "An interview with Peter Lawrence". Development. 143 (2): 183–185. doi:10.1242/dev.133769. ISSN 0950-1991. PMID 26786208. (subscription required)
  4. Crick, Francis; Lawrence, Peter (1975). "Compartments and polyclones in insect development". Science. 189 (4200): 340–347. Bibcode:1975Sci...189..340C. doi:10.1126/science.806966. PMID 806966.
  5. Bretscher, M.; Lawrence, P. (2004). "Francis Crick 1916–2004". Current Biology. 14 (16): R642–R645. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.08.006. PMID 15324677.
  6. Lawrence, Peter (2009). "Book review: A scientist unparalleled" (PDF). Current Biology. 19 (22): R1015–R1018. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2009.10.016.
  7. Peter Anthony Lawrence publications from Europe PubMed Central
  8. Lawrence, Peter A. (2017). "The Making of a Fly".
  9. Morata, G.; Lawrence, P. (1975). "Control of compartment development by the engrailed gene in Drosophila". Nature. 255 (5510): 614–617. Bibcode:1975Natur.255..614M. doi:10.1038/255614a0. PMID 1134551.
  10. Lawrence, P.; Struhl, G. (1996). "Morphogens, compartments, and pattern: Lessons from drosophila?". Cell. 85 (7): 951–961. doi:10.1016/S0092-8674(00)81297-0. PMID 8674123.
  11. John Finch; 'A Nobel Fellow on Every Floor', Medical Research Council 2008, 381 pp, ISBN 978-1-84046-940-0.
  12. Lawrence, Peter A. (1966). "Development and determination of hairs and bristles in the milkweed bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus (Lygaeidae, Hemiptera)". Journal of Cell Science. 1 (4): 475–498. PMID 5956722.
  13. "Genetics of Animal Design", LVMH Science for Art Abstracts.
  14. "Gary Struhl's web site".
  15. Sutter, John (25 April 2011). "Amazon seller lists book at $23,698,655.93 -- plus shipping". CNN. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  16. Farrell, Nick (25 April 2011). "Amazon listed text book for $23 million – Sellers using Algorithms to set prices". Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  17. Eaton, Nick (25 April 2011). "The perils of automatic pricing on Amazon". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  18. Eisen, Michael (22 April 2011). "Amazon's $23,698,655.93 book about flies". it is NOT junk: (blog of Michael Eisen). Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  19. Peter Anthony Lawrence publications indexed by Google Scholar
  20. Lawrence, P. A. (2006). "Men, Women, and Ghosts in Science". PLOS Biology. 4 (1): e19. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0040019. PMC 1326282. PMID 16535774.
  21. Lawrence, P. A. (2009). "Real Lives and White Lies in the Funding of Scientific Research". PLOS Biology. 7 (9): e1000197. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000197. PMC 2735719. PMID 19753105.
  22. Lawrence, P. A. (2003). "The politics of publication". Nature. 422 (6929): 259–261. Bibcode:2003Natur.422..259L. doi:10.1038/422259a. PMID 12646895.
  23. "EMBO member: Peter A. Lawrence".
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