The hedgehog signaling pathway is a mechanism that directs the development of embryonic cells in animals, from invertebrates to vertebrates. The hedgehog signaling pathway is a system of genes and gene products, mostly proteins, that convert one kind of signal into another, called transduction. In 1980, Christiane Nusslein-Volhard and Eric F. Wieschaus, at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, identified several fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) genes. They found that when those genes were changed or mutated, the mutated genes disrupted the normal development of fruit fly larvae. The researchers called one of the genes hedgehog (abbreviated hh). Nusslein-Volhard, Wieschaus, and Edward B. Lewis, at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, shared the 1995 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their research on how genes control early embryonic development in fruit flies. The hedgehog signaling pathway is conserved across many animal taxa or phyla, from Drosophila to humans. The hedgehog signaling pathway controls several key components of embryonic development, stem-cell maintenance, and it influences the development of some cancers.

Curt Jacob Stern studied radiation and chromosomes in humans and fruit flies in the United States during the twentieth century. He researched the mechanisms of inheritance and of mitosis, or the process in which the chromosomes in the nucleus of a single cell, called the parent cell, split into identical sets and yield two cells, called daughter cells. Stern worked on the Drosophila melanogaster fruit fly, and he provided early evidence that chromosomes exchange genetic material during cellular reproduction. During World War II, he provided evidence for the harmful effects of radiation on developing organisms. That research showed that mutations can cause problems in developing fetuses and can lead to cancer. He helped explain how genetic material transmits from parent to progeny, and how it functions in developing organisms.

In 1935, George Beadle and Boris Ephrussi developed a technique to transplant optic discs between fruit fly larvae. They developed it while at the California Institute of Technology in Pasedena, California. Optic discs are tissues from which the adult eyes develop. Beadle and Ephrussi used their technique to study the development of the eye and eye pigment. (1) The experimenter dissects a donor larva, which is in the third instar stage of development, and removes the optic disc (colored red) with a micropipette.

In the 1930s, George Beadle and Boris Ephrussi discovered factors that affect eye colors in developing fruit flies. They did so while working at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. (1) They took optic discs (colored fuchsia in the image) from fruit fly larvae in the third instar stage of development. Had the flies not been manipulated, they would have developed into adults with vermilion eyes.