Scientists who explained the cell’s chemical transport system claim Nobel Prize
Interest in today’s physics prize will focus on whether the award will be for the Higgs boson
Images of James Rothman and Randy Schekman of the US, and German-born researcher Thomas Sudhof are projected on a screen, in Stockholm, Sweden, after they were announced as the winners of the 2013 Nobel Prize in medicine.
Three scientists who helped to unravel the secrets of the cell as a mini-factory for biochemicals have won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. All eyes will be on Stockholm this morning however to see whether the discovery of the Higgs Boson will receive the prize for physics.
James Rothman of Yale University along with Randy Schekman at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Thomas Südhof at Stanford University shared the prize in medicine for solving the mystery of how the cell organises its transport system.
They discovered the molecular principles that control how chemical signals are transported around the body, ensuring that the right chemicals arrive at the right place at the right time. “Without this wonderfully precise organisation, the cell would lapse into chaos,” the Nobel Assembly at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute said when awarding the prize of 8 million crowns (€930,000).
While the prize for medicine is the first award to be given, the physics prize later today will attract a particular degree of interest.
Many physicists believe that the prize will be given to British scientist Peter Higgs and Belgium’s François Englert for their research into the mysterious subatomic particle the Higgs Boson.
The Higgs was the last puzzle piece needed to help explain how matter works, at once answering questions about the heart of an atom and the most distant reaches of the expanding universe.
Different groups of scientists including Higgs and Englert theorised about the particle, but in July 2012 Cern, Europe’s nuclear research centre, discovered a “Higgs-like particle”.
Last March Cern was satisfied it had discovered the Higgs.
Yesterday’s winners were surprised and delighted in equal measure. “My first reaction was, ‘Oh, my god!’ ” said Schekman, who was woken with the news early yesterday morning. “That was also my second reaction,” he added.
Südhof professed similar surprise. “It blew me over,” he said. “Every scientist dreams of getting a Nobel prize.”
Prof Patrik Rorsman of Oxford University said the award was timely and well deserved.
“It is such a fundamental process they have studied and explained. Their discoveries could perhaps have clinical implications in psychiatric diseases, but my guess is that they will be more useful for the understanding of how cells work,” Prof Rorsman said.
“It’s one of the prizes for which there is not a treatment that came out of it directly, but there are probably . . . thousands of laboratories around the world whose work would not be taking place the way it is without their work,” said Jeremy Berg, director of the Institute for Personalized Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. – (Additional reporting: Reuters)