Dhaka Oct. 9, 2013. The 2013 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to three scientists for discovering the machinery that regulates how cells transport major molecules in a cargo system that delivers them to the right place at the right time. The Karolinska Institute in Stockholm announced the winners: James E. Rothman, 62, of Yale University; Randy W. Schekman, 64, of the University of California, Berkeley; and Dr. Thomas C. Südhof, 57, of Stanford University. Dr. Schekman used one-celled yeast as a model system when he began his research in the 1970s. He found that vesicles piled up in parts of the cell and that the cause of the congestion was genetic. He went on to identify three classes of genes that control different facets of the cell’s transport system. His findings enabled the biotechnology industry to exploit the secretion system in yeast to create and spit out pharmaceutical and industrial products like insulin and hepatitis B vaccines. Dr. Rothman studied vesicle transport in mammalian cells in the 1980s and ’90s. He discovered that a protein complex allows vesicles to dock and fuse with their target membranes. During the fusion, proteins on the vesicles and target membranes bind to each other like the two sides of a zipper. The fact that there are many such proteins and that they bind only in specific combinations ensures that cargo is delivered to a precise location; the same principle operates inside the cell and when a vesicle binds to the cell’s outer membrane to release its contents. Dr. Südhof studied neurotransmission, the process by which nerve cells communicate with other cells in the brain. He helped transform what had been a rough outline into a number of molecular activities to provide insights into the elaborate mechanisms at the crux of neurological activities, from the simplest to the most sophisticated.
[Summarized by Samsad Razzaque, now at UT, Austin on a fellowship in the Peer program .]