Yes, it’s that time of year once again- the time when Alfred Nobel gets to say ‘sorry’ for bringing dynamite into the world by honouring a few people with a big shiny medal, the title of ‘Nobel Laureate’ and a big wad of money. There was considerable British interest in the awards this year, but could any emulate the achievement of Sir John B. Gurdon in 2012, who received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to regain pluripotency? We’ll take you through the winners and the losers as they are revealed over the course of the week.
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2013
This year’s Nobel Prize for Medicine has been awarded to three scientists for their discovery of how cellular transport is organised.
James E Rothman, Randy W Schekman and Thomas C Südhof will share the prize for their work in understanding vesicular transport. Our cells produce many molecules, like hormones and enzymes, that must be transported to the correct part of the cell – or exported from the cell altogether – at exactly the right time in order for our bodies to function. That they make use of small bubbles known as ‘vesicles’ to transport these molecules is well known, but how these vesicles are directed to the correct destination has, until now, remained a mystery.
The three new Nobel Laureates each provided a piece of the puzzle, describing genes and proteins responsible for the ‘shipping address’ of the vesicle as well as a system by which release can be carefully timed and executed on command. This is a fundamental process in cell biology, and our new understanding of it should open up new avenues for exploration by the next lot of prospective prize winners.
Nobel Prize in Physics 2013
As many suspected would be the case, the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2013 has been awarded to François Englert of Belgium and Peter Higgs of the UK for their theoretical discovery of the Higgs Boson.
The Higgs Boson is a subatomic particle that, according to the Standard Model of particle physics, imparts mass upon other particles. Its existence was first suggested by the two new laureates back in 1964, independently of one another. Nearly 50 years later, they finally get to say ‘I told you so’ thanks to results from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva that showed the presence of a particle that perfectly matched the description of the Higgs Boson.
Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2013
Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel complete our list of winners of the three key science prizes this year, taking the prize for their contribution to computer modelling of molecules.
Once upon a time, chemists would create models of molecules using plastic Lego-like sets. That has now been revolutionised for the 21st century, with computers providing us with the ability not only to build molecules, but also to predict how they might behave.
Complex chemical reactions are impossible to follow to every detail through traditional methods. However, through the use of computer models that Karplus, Levitt and Warshel paved the way for back in the 1970s we can now accurately predict the outcome of a reaction before it has even begun. The computer is as key a piece of laboratory equipment as anything nowadays, and this is due in no small part to these three men.
Congratulations to all this year’s winners. I suppose I’ll have to wait until next year…