Winners announced for Nobel Prizes in chemistry

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By Joe Chiarino, Contributing Writer

Three chemists by the names of Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich, and Aziz Sancar are the 2015 Nobel Prize winners in the field of chemistry for their “mechanistic studies of DNA repair,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences stated on Wednesday.

The three laureates now understand how cells are capable of not only repairing DNA, but protecting it as well. This newfound information will result in a better understanding of the functionality of a cell, and possibly the invention of new ways to combat cancer.

Lindahl, a professor of Medical and Physiological Chemistry at the University of Gothenburg from 1978 to 1982, showed how the rate at which DNA decays is rapid enough that the formation of life is theoretically impossible. From this fact, Lindahl set out to “discover a molecular machinery, base excision repair, which constantly counteracts the collapse of our DNA,” as stated by the academy.

Sancar, a professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was able to map nucleotide excision repair, which is the method by which cells repair DNA damage due to UV rays.

Individuals with a defect in this mechanism are more prone to developing various types of skin cancer because of prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation; whether it is from tanning beds or the sun itself.

Another already understood mechanism involved in this process is nucleotide excision repair, which is responsible for repairing damage due to harmful substances, such as tobacco.

Modrich, a professor of biochemistry at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina, discovered the manner in which cells repair damaged DNA during cell division. This process is now known as mismatch repair, which the academy commented as a reduction in “error frequency during DNA replication by about a thousand fold.” Various problems with this mechanism are understood, such as one defect that may result in a type of colon cancer that is inherited.

The knowledge provided by these three brilliant minds may be the gateway to new treatments for cancer and various other diseases. Their contributions to the world of science are some of the most significant of this time period.


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