This year the Swedish jury awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to three researchers for their mechanistic studies of DNA repair: Swedish Tomas Lindahl, American Paul Modrich and Turkish-American Aziz Sancar.
They mapped «at a molecular level how cells repair damaged DNA and safeguard their genetic information» which is constantly deteriorating due to «environmental assaults».
DNA can indeed be damaged throughout our lives, for instance, by UV radiation or aggressive substances.
The three 2015 winners skillfully explored the “cell’s toolbox” and recorded progress in “our knowledge of how cells work at a molecular level and their research work led to the development of new cancer treatments”, stated the Nobel Committee.
2015 is an excellent year for DNA repair since two other pioneers in this field, Evelyn Witkin and Stephen J. Elledge, received the Lasker Award that is intended for specialists in fundamental and clinical medical research.
Herafter the three Nobel scientists awarded discoveries:
- Tomas Lindahl, born in 1938, demonstrated that DNA decays at a rate that ought to have made the development of live on Earth impossible. This means that DNA must necessarily have a self-repair mechanism. With this insight, the researcher discovered a molecular machinery that constantly counteracts the collapse of our DNA: “base excision repair”.
- Aziz Sancar, born in 1946, identified another defense mechanism against attacks: «nucleotide excision repair«, which is crucial to preserve our genetic heritage. He mapped “the mechanism that cells use to repair the damage caused by UV radiations or mutagenic substances”.
- Paul Modrich, born in 1946, demonstrated how the cell corrects errors that occur when DNA is replicated during cell division. This mechanism, that he calls “mismatch repair”, “stabilizes the genome by reducing error frequency and by blocking divergent DNA sequences”.