Americans Richard Axel and Linda Buck have won the 2004 Nobel Prize for Medicine, and a check for $1.3 million, for their work in studying details of the sense of smell. The medicine award is the first of the coveted Nobel Prizes to be announced this week.
The chairman of the Nobel committee for physiology or medicine, Goran Hansson, in Stockholm, made the announcement of the award to the American medical researchers.
"The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institute has today decided to award the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for 2004 jointly to Richard Axel and Linda Buck for their discovery of odorant receptors and the organization of the olfactory system," he said.
The two scientists were lauded for their discovery of a large family of about 1,000 genes and a corresponding number of olfactory receptor types in human beings. Each of those receptors can detect a limited number of smells.
The jury says Drs. Axel and Buck carried out groundbreaking studies on how human beings remember and recognize thousands of different smells, a faculty that had previously not been understood.
Dr. Axel is a professor at Columbia University in New York, while Dr. Buck works at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. The jury says their studies during the past 13 years clarify how the olfactory system works, from the molecular level to the organization of the cells.
In men, as in other mammals, the jury says, identifying suitable food through the sense of smell and avoiding putrid or unfit foodstuffs is important for survival.
The other Nobel Prizes, in physics, chemistry, literature and economics, will be announced in Stockholm during the next few days. The Nobel Peace Prize will be announced in Norway on Friday.
The prizes that were set up by Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, and first awarded in 1901 will be bestowed upon the winners in December.