News / Europe

Cellular Delivery System Research Wins Nobel Prize

James Rothman and Randy Schekman, of the US,  and German-born researcher Thomas Suedhof  are projected on a screen, in Stockholm, Sweden after they were announced as the winners of the 2013 Nobel Prize in medicine, Oct. 7, 2013.
James Rothman and Randy Schekman, of the US, and German-born researcher Thomas Suedhof are projected on a screen, in Stockholm, Sweden after they were announced as the winners of the 2013 Nobel Prize in medicine, Oct. 7, 2013.
TEXT SIZE - +
Three researchers studying how cells transport chemicals within and between cells have won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology, Medicine

Awarded to three scientists for solving the mystery of how the cell organizes its transport system

  • James Rothman: Professor and Chairman in the Department of Cell Biology at Yale University
  • Randy Schekman: Professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California at Berkeley
  • Thomas Sudhof: Professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology at Stanford University
To explain what the researchers discovered, Harvard University cell biologist Tom Kirchhausen says it helps to think of each cell in the body as a tiny city.

“You have people that are moving from one place to the other to do whatever function they do,” he said. “You move from place to place in carriers or containers,” like buses, trucks or trains, he says.

In this analogy, the people are the proteins, hormones and other chemicals that do the work and carry messages in our bodies.

Insulin, produced in the pancreas but used throughout the body, is one example. Or neurotransmitters that carry brain signals from one neuron to another.

The transport system - the cell’s tiny buses, trucks or trains - has to get them from one part of the cell to another, or to the outside of the cell. If the system breaks down, the results are diseases like diabetes or neurodegenerative disorders.

Yeast to people

The process is so fundamental to life that evolution has not changed it much from yeast to people.

Randy Schekman at the University of California at Berkeley discovered in yeast the genetic blueprints for the proteins that make up the cellular delivery system.

Later, says neuroscientist Erik Jorgensen at the University of Utah, researchers found out “that the proteins involved in this process that allow us to think, that allow nerve cells to communicate with one another, are precisely the same ones that were found in yeast.”

But Schekman’s work was just a piece of the puzzle. James Rothman at Yale University discovered how each little cellular bus delivers its passengers to the right station.

“From Schekman’s work we had a list of the players,” Jorgensen said. “What Rothman showed us was who was interacting with whom.”

And the third prize winner, Thomas Südhof, discovered how in nerve cells those little buses release their passengers quickly and precisely in response to a signal.

Research at risk

At a press conference, Rothman noted that his good mood was due to his neurons secreting endorphins, one class of neurotransmitters delivered through the mechanism he and his colleagues had discovered.

Rothman said he was lucky to get his start at a time when a young scientist could take risks to pursue an idea.

“I’d like to think that that kind of support existed today, but I think there’s less of it," he said. "And it’s actually becoming a pressing national issue, if not an international issue.”

He said U.S. funding for scientific research has declined in recent years, threatening American leadership in science and technology.

You May Like

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

Egyptian Court Jails 23 Pro-Morsi Supporters

Meanwhile, Egyptian officials say gunmen have killed two members of the country's security forces More

Pakistani Journalists Protest Shooting of Colleague

Hamid Mir, a host for private television channel Geo, was wounded after being shot three times Saturday, but is expected to survive More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid