ellestra: (tiger)
[personal profile] ellestra
It's Wednesday at the beginning of October so it means all the science Nobel Prize winners have been announced. So here they are the winners of this year award for Medicine, Physics and Chemistry.

The Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded one half jointly to William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura "for their discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites" and the other half to Youyou Tu "for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against Malaria". The diseases caused by parasites are still killing and maiming people. Roundworms cause disfigurements that are stuff of nightmares (and a clickbait for the countless website showing you worms in eyes and scrotum dragging behind a man - no link here you can google it if you think you can take it the BBC article is bad enough) and malaria is infecting hundreds of millions and killing hundreds of thousands every year (and those who die are mostly children). Anything that helps to fight these diseases makes our world markedly better. Ivermectin kills the first larval stage of the roundworm parasite and artemisinin is active during the stage when the parasite is located inside red blood cells. Both helped millions and continue to do so still but as always the danger of resistance looms so the research for new ways to get rid of these parasites is still crucial. Youyou Tu's discovery also shows that when something works it's no longer alternative medicine - it's just medicine.

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2015 was awarded jointly to Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B. McDonald "for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, which shows that neutrinos have mass". This is for discovery that neutrinos can change flavours (this is how neutrinos types are described) and the ability to do that explained why we observed different quantity of each flavour than expected. It also meant that the baffling particles must have a mass. I always liked how they hunted for neutrinos in those underground caves and the man who had the idea how to do it and that neutrinos have flavours and can switch between them was a Cold War spy.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2015 was awarded jointly to Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar "for mechanistic studies of DNA repair". I've been working in DNA repair most of my science career and one of the laureates work at the same university (and another one just next door) so I feel especially close to this one. This is the award for research on 3 main pathways of DNA repair - BER, NER and MMR. The first one is Base Excision Repair - if the DNA bases are damage (by for example oxydation) and change their properties the DNA cannot function properly so special enzymes remove the bad base and replace it with another. Nucleotide Excision Repair works in the very similar way but excises the whole nucleotides. The difference between base and nucleotide is that the base is just the A, T, C and G by themselves. Nucleotide includes also sugar that forms the structural skeleton of DNA. NER usually removes larger part of the DNA strand and then rebuilds it because the damage (like UV dimers) was so extensive it caused the deformation of the DNA structure. Mismatch Repair happens when the wrong type of base is incorporate into DNA. The bases always pair A with T and G with C. If the wrong base is incorporated then MMR comes to fix it which corrects polymerase errors and reduces replication errors 1000-fold. I'm not sure if I explain it simple enough. I spent so many years staring at the schematics of this pathways that everything seems to simplified to me. Sorry.

May 2016

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