This year the Nobel Prize for chemistry has been awarded to three scientists: Thomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar for discovering how living cells repair and protect DNA. They all equally received one-third of the 8 million Swedish Kronor award.
We all know what DNA stands for and it’s probably the most magnificent molecule in the world. But for many years people didn’t have any clue what our DNA was capable of or nor had anyone an idea about chromosomes.
When for the first time a sperm and a egg fuse into one diploid cell, the cell starts to divide. After that moment, DNA starts to create a genetic code that can be used to create and give a cell its certain function. To copy genetic material, many chemical reactions take place in a cell, which means that it’s somehow impossible to not have any errors that can lead to disintegration of our genetic material. If we don’t forget to mention exposures to UV-radiation, carcinogens, etcetera, it’s magical to see that our genetic material still manages to remain a whole.
This leads us to the idea that cells have some kind of a mechanism that repairs and safeguards our DNA. These three groundbreaking scientists have mapped how these mechanisms function.
Thomas Lindahl has discovered base excision repair which repairs DNA when a base is damaged by excising that base and filling the gap with DNA polymerase.
Paul L. Modrich has mapped mismatch repair. It captures 98 percent of the errors that are made during DNA replication. A complex of ‘mismatch’ enzymes take those bad nucleotides and fill the gap again without errors.
Aziz Sancar has mapped nucleotide excision repair. Basically, it means that cells use this mechanism to repair DNA damaged from UV radiation or mutagenic substances for example. He is also the first Turkish scientist and the third Muslim scientist who won a Nobel Prize for chemistry.
The discovery of these machineries has shown that we can now understand more about how living cells function and that we can use this knowledge to find new cancer treatments.