Clifford Tabin has made diverse contributions to developmental biology and, in particular, pattern formation — how the body’s form and structure is correctly established in the embryo. Most significant is his identification of a signalling cascade that implicates Sonic hedgehog, a secreted morphogen, in the creation of asymmetry in vertebrates — for example, why the heart forms on the left, and not the right, of the body.
Originally a physicist, Clifford chose to conduct his doctoral studies on the newly discovered recombinant DNA techniques and oncogenes. He constructed the first modified virus that could transfer DNA into eukaryotic cells — now a powerful molecular biology tool. His later work in developmental biology has answered fundamental questions such as why the leg differs from the arm and why intestines coil in a specific direction.