Four ASBMB members win Nobel prizes

Omura Lindal Modrich Sancar
Ōmura Lindahl Modrich Sancar

Four members of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology won 2015 Nobel prizes this week.

ASBMB member Satoshi Ōmura of Kitasato University is one of three winners of the Nobel prize for physiology or medicine for their work on therapies for parasitic infections. Ōmura won half of the prize with William Campbell of Drew University for the discovery of avermectins, which "have radically lowered the incidence of river blindness and lymphatic filariasis," the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement.

Ōmura was born in Japan and earned a master’s degree from Tokyo Science University, a Ph.D. from the University of Tokyo and another Ph.D. from Tokyo University of Science. Today he is an emeritus professor at Kitasato University.

The other half of the prize went to Tu Youyou, the first China-based scientist to win the award, for her discovery of the antimalarial drug artemisinin.

ASBMB members Tomas Lindahl at the Francis Crick Institute in London, Paul Modrich at Duke University School of Medicine and Aziz Sancar at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, won the Nobel in chemistry “for having mapped, at a molecular level, how cells repair damaged DNA and safeguard the genetic information,” the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institutet said.

Lindahl was born in Sweden, earned his Ph.D. from the Karolinska Institutet and worked at the University of Gothenburg. Today he is an emeritus group leader and director of Cancer Research UK at Clare Hall Laboratory. The prize announcement cited his work on base excision repair.

Modrich was born in the U.S. and earned his Ph.D. from Stanford University. He is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and a professor at Duke’s medical school. The prize announcement cited his work on DNA mismatch repair.

Sancar was born in Turkey and earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Dallas. He is a professor at UNC’s medical school and an editorial board member for the ASBMB’s Journal of Biological Chemistry. The prize announcement cited his work on the nucleotide excision repair pathway. He also won ASBMB's Bert and Natalie Vallee Award in Biomedical Science and will give an award lecture at the 2016 ASBMB annual meeting in San Diego in April.

"How wonderful it is each fall to see the news from Stockholm on Nobel prize winners," ASBMB President Steven McKnight said. "This was a bonanza year for those of us who revere biochemists."  

The JBC has featured the work of Modrich and Sancar in two articles known as “Classics”: “Understanding DNA mismatch Repair: the work of Paul L. Modrich” and “DNA repair mechanisms: the work of Aziz Sancar.” Lindahl also has published several papers in the JBC.

In addition, as Forbes writer David Kroll quipped, “contrary of the perennial basketball rivalry between Duke and UNC, the laboratories of Drs. Modrich and Sancar published a collaborative paper just last year, in the (JBC)”: “Coupling of human DNA excision repair and the DNA damage checkpoint in a defined in vitro system.”

F. Peter Guengerich, interim editor-in-chief of the JBC, commented: “The repair of DNA is an extremely important biochemical phenomenon. Humans have more than 100 genes devoted to this system. Many genetic diseases are due to deficiencies in this system. …We are very happy to see their work recognized.”

Rajendrani Mukhopadhyay contributed to this report.

Angela Hopp Angela Hopp is communications director for ASBMB and executive editor of ASBMB Today.