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2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry Awarded for Mechanistic Studies of DNA Repair; Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich, & Aziz Sancar Share Award

On Wednesday, October 7, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced that it had decided to award the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2015 to Tomas Lindahl (Sweden, UK), Paul Modrich (USA) and Aziz Sancar (Turkey, USA) 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 monetary prize of $970,000 will be shared equally amongst the three new Nobel Laureates. Each day our DNA is damaged by UV radiation, free radicals, and other carcinogenic substances, but even without such external attacks, a DNA molecule is inherently unstable. Thousands of spontaneous changes to a cell’s genome occur on a daily basis. Furthermore, defects can also arise when DNA is copied during cell division, a process that occurs several million times every day in the human body. The reason our genetic material does not disintegrate into complete chemical chaos is that a host of molecular systems continuously monitor and repair 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. In the early 1970s, scientists believed that DNA was an extremely stable molecule, but Tomas Lindahl, Ph.D., 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. Aziz Sancar, Ph.D., has mapped nucleotide excision repair, the mechanism that cells use to repair UV damage to DNA. People born with defects in this repair system will develop skin cancer if they are exposed to sunlight. The cell also utilizes nucleotide excision repair to correct defects caused by mutagenic substances, among other things. Paul Modrich, Ph.D., has 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 thousandfold. Congenital defects in mismatch repair are known, for example, to cause a hereditary variant of colon cancer. The Nobel Laureates in Chemistry 2015 have provided fundamental insights into how cells function, knowledge that can be used, for instance, in the development of new cancer treatments.

Dr. Tomas Lindahl is a Swedish citizen, born in 1938 in Stockholm, Sweden. He earned his Ph.D. in 1967 from Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden. He was Professor of Medical and Physiological Chemistry at the University of Gothenburg 1978–82. He is now Emeritus group leader at the Francis Crick Institute and Emeritus Director of Cancer Research UK at Clare Hall Laboratory, Hertfordshire, UK.

Dr. Paul Modrich is a U.S. citizen, born in 1946. He earned his Ph.D. in 1973 from Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA. He is currently James B. Duke Professor of Biochemistry at Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, North Carolina, USA, and an Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Dr. Aziz Sancar, is a U.S. and Turkish citizen. He was born in 1946 in Savur, Turkey, and earned his Ph.D. in 1977 from the University of Texas, Dallas, Texas, USA. He is currently the Sarah Graham Kenan Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA.

[Nobel press release] [Tomas Lindahl] [Paul Modrich] [Aziz Sancar]

[New York Times article] [USA Today article] [Washington Post article] [BBC News article] [Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) News article] [Scientific American article] [International Business Times article] [Reuters article]