Chemistry Nobel: Mapping DNA repair

The award wining work uncovered how cells repair damaged DNA - a fundamental mechanism in cells and important in cancer.
13 October 2015

Interview with 

Emma Sackville, University of Bath


A baby explores a model of DNA


The Nobel Prize for Chemistry was jointly awared to Tomas Lindahl and Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar for mapping how DNA repairs itself. Emma Sackville reports...

Emma - This year, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry was jointly awarded to Thomas Lindahl, Paul Mudrich, and Aziz Sancar for their into the mechanisms by which cells repair damaged DNA.

Up to the early 1970s, many people believed that DNA was a stable molecule. However, Thomas Lindhal showed that DNA is damaged at such a high rate that life should be impossible. It was this discovery which led him to conclude that cells must be able to repair that damaged DNA, and this in turn led him to identify one of the ways that cells can do this, in a mechanism known as basic excision repair.

Our second Nobel Laureate, Aziz Sancar was first drawn to repair mechanisms by his interest in how UV damage bacterial cells can regenerate when illuminated with blue light. This seemingly magical occurrence eventually led to his discovery of a mechanism called nucleotide excision repair which repairs DNA after a cell has been exposed to UV radiation. As well as damage from radiation and its inherent instability, errors in DNA can also be generated during replication. This is a process by which cells copy their DNA message and it happens millions of times a day in your body.

Paul Modrich who shares the prize money of eight million Swedish krona was instrumental in identifying the exact proteins responsible for so-called mismatch repair, which can correct 99.9 per cent of all replication errors. The detailed understanding which these scientists have uncovered has implications for cancer research as well as in expanding our knowledge of hereditary diseases, hopefully bringing us one step closer to treating them...


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