Trio from Sweden, US and Turkey win Nobel Prize in Chemistry for DNA work

The portraits of the winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2015 (from left) Sweden's Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich of US and Turkish-American Aziz Sancar are displayed on a screen during a press conference on Oct 7, 2015 at the Royal Swedish Academy
The portraits of the winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2015 (from left) Sweden's Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich of US and Turkish-American Aziz Sancar are displayed on a screen during a press conference on Oct 7, 2015 at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm.PHOTO: AFP

STOCKHOLM (Reuters/AFP) - Sweden's Dr Tomas Lindahl, the United States-based Dr Paul Modrich and Turkish-born Dr Aziz Sancar won the 2015 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for work on mapping how cells repair damaged DNA, the award-giving body said on Wednesday (Oct 7).

he 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.

The three were honoured "for having mapped, at a molecular level, how cells repair damaged DNA and safeguard the genetic information. Their work has provided fundamental knowledge of how a living cell functions and is, for instance, used for the development of new cancer treatments", the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences said in a statement awarding the 8 million Swedish crowns (S$1.3 million).

"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 life-saving treatments," it added.

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

 

Dr Sancar, who has US and Turkish citizenship, is a professor at the University of North Carolina in the United States.

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

Dr Sancar, born in Savur, Turkey, discovered the mechanisms used by cells to fix damage by ultraviolet radiation.

Dr Modrich laid bare a complex DNA-mending process called mismatch repair.

The three share the prize sum.

Chemistry was the third of this year's Nobel prizes.

The Nobel awards week continues with the announcements for the two-most closely-watched prizes: On Thursday, the winner of the literature prize will be announced, followed by the peace prize on Friday.

The economics prize will wrap up this year's Nobel season on Monday, Oct 12.

The laureates will receive their prizes at formal ceremonies in Stockholm and Oslo on Dec 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of prize creator Alfred Nobel, a Swedish philanthropist and scientist.

The prize is named after Nobel and has been awarded since 1901 for achievements in science, literature and peace in accordance with his will.