DNA scientists win Nobel in Chemistry

The joint winners of this year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry are (from far left) Dr Tomas Lindahl, Professor Paul Modrich and Professor Aziz Sancar.
The joint winners of this year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry are (from far left) Dr Tomas Lindahl, Professor Paul Modrich and Professor Aziz Sancar.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Trio unveiled how the body repairs DNA mutations that can cause sickness

STOCKHOLM • Sweden's Dr Tomas Lindahl, Professor Paul Modrich of the US and Prof Aziz Sancar, a Turkish-American, have won the 2015 Nobel Chemistry Prize for work on how cells repair damaged DNA.

The three opened a dazzling frontier in medicine by unveiling how the body repairs DNA mutations that can cause sickness and contribute to ageing, the Nobel jury said in announcing the award yesterday.

"Their systematic work has made a decisive contribution to the understanding of how the living cell functions, as well as providing knowledge about the molecular causes of several hereditary diseases and about mechanisms behind both cancer development and ageing," the panel said.

DNA - deoxyribonucleic acid - is the chemical code for making and sustaining life. When cells divide, molecular machines seek to replicate the code perfectly, but random slip-ups in their work can cause the daughter cells to die or malfunction. DNA can also be damaged by strong sunlight and other environmental factors.

But there is a swarm of proteins - a molecular repair kit - designed to monitor the process. It proof-reads the code and repairs damage.

The three men were lauded for mapping these processes, starting with Dr Lindahl, who identified so-called repair enzymes - the basics in the toolbox.

Prof Sancar discovered the mechanisms used by cells to fix damage by ultraviolet radiation. Prof Modrich laid bare a complex DNA-mending process called mismatch repair.

"The basic research carried out by the 2015 Nobel laureates in chemistry has not only deepened our knowledge of how we function, but could also lead to the development of lifesaving treatments," the Nobel committee said.

Dr Lindahl, 77, works at Britain's Francis Crick Institute and Clare Hall Laboratory, while Prof Modrich, 69, is a researcher at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Duke University School of Medicine in the United States.

Prof Sancar, 69, was born in Turkey and has US and Turkish citizenship. He is a professor at the University of North Carolina in the US.

The three share the prize sum of eight million Swedish kronor (S$1.35 million).

The Nobel awards week continues with the announcements for the two most closely-watched prizes: the winner of the literature prize will be known today, followed by the peace prize tomorrow. The economics prize on Monday will wrap up this year's Nobel season.

The Nobel prize was created by Alfred Nobel, a Swedish philanthropist and scientist, who died in 1896.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2015, with the headline 'DNA scientists win Nobel in Chemistry'. Print Edition | Subscribe