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Chemistry Nobel Prize 2015
Oct 09, 2015

The Nobel Prize 2015 in Chemistry jointly awarded to Tomas Lindahl (Sweden), Paul Modrich (USA) and Aziz Sancar (US citizen of Turkish origin) for mechanistic studies of DNA repair. Their work has provided fundamental knowledge of how a living cell functions and is used for the development of new cancer treatments.

  • Lindahl is from the Francis Crick Institute. He demonstrated that DNA decays at a rate that ought to have made the development of life on Earth impossible. This insight led him to discover a molecular machinery, base excision repair, which constantly counteracts the collapse of our DNA.

  • Modrich is from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Duke University School of Medicine. He demonstrated how the cell corrects errors that occur when DNA is replicated during cell division. This mechanism, mismatch repair, reduces the error frequency during DNA replication by about a thousand fold. Congenital defects in mismatch repair are known, for example, to cause a hereditary variant of colon cancer.

  • Sancar is from the University of North Carolina. He has mapped nucleotide excision repair, the mechanism that cells use to repair UV damage to DNA. People born with defects in this repair stem will develop skin cancer if they are exposed to sunlight. The cell also utilises nucleotide excision repair to correct defects caused by mutagenic substances, among other things.

DNA is a blueprint, firmware, and operating system all rolled into one, so it’s really important for the code to be correct. But the nature of chemistry is that things sometimes go wrong at random. DNA breaks down over time, sometimes there are mistakes in transcription, and ultraviolet radiation and some chemicals can damage DNA. But the body has ways to fix that.

Specialized protein molecules called enzymes act as chemical repair mechanisms for DNA. Scientists now understand how cells repair damaged DNA, they also have a better understanding of the chemistry behind the aging process, some neuro-degenerative diseases, and several types of cancer.

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