On Wednesday, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences bestowed the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to 3 researchers, in recognition of their work concerning damaged DNA.
Scientists Paul Modrich, Tomas Lindahl and Aziz Sancar were rewarded for their contribution to science in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Aside from the fact that they have now entered history books, a sum of $960,000 will also be divided among the title recipients.
The scientists’ work helped advance modern-day medicine, by providing a more comprehensive understanding of aging processes, neurodegenerative disease, and cancer development and progression.
Their focus was on the ability that cells have to repair damaged DNA, and their findings gave new insight into the body’s inner mechanisms. Their ground-breaking work helped explain how the genetic material is kept intact, thanks to a variety of molecular systems whose role is to monitor and reconstruct DNA.
“The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2015 awards three pioneering scientists who have mapped how several of these repair systems function at a detailed molecular level”, the Nobel Prize website announced.
For example, emeritus scientist Tomas Lindahl, born in Sweden, worked as a cancer researcher at the Francis Crick Institute and the Clare Hall Laboratory in the U.K.
While investigating DNA stability in the 1960’s, he noticed that as these molecules which carry genetic instructions are disrupted, this wreaks havoc throughout the body. The decay is caused by free radicals, UV radiation and other carcinogenic factors, destabilizing the already unstable DNA molecule even further.
Lindahl explained that such processes of rapid deterioration take place on a daily basis, “at a rate that ought to have made the development of life on Earth impossible”. However, proteins manage to fix the damage by conducting a surveillance activity called base excision repair.
During an interview Lindahl participated in, after being awarded the Nobel Prize, he expressed his gratitude, surprise and joy that his lifetime work had been recognized as noteworthy and “actually important”.
Aziz Sancar, who has double citizenship (American and Turkish) was also honored for his contribution. As professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, he shed new light on how enzymes called photolyases combat ultraviolet damage through nucleotide excision repair.
According to the Nobel committee, Sancar’s extensive knowledge of this process paved the way for vital discoveries in this field.
Last but not least, Paul Modric’s work regarding mismatch repair was also found remarkable and worthy of a Nobel Prize. Throughout his career as a researcher at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and as a medical professor at Duke University, he helped explain this DNA repair process.
Basically, DNA damage occurs naturally, as cells replicate and recombine, but these transcription errors can be detected and fixed, thanks to “Mut” proteins.
The actual Prize Award Ceremony, which will be attended by this year’s laureates, will take place in Oslo, Norway, on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death.
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