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Benjamin Yang

Drs. Sydney Brenner, John E. Sulston, and H. Robert Horvitz won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Following the announcement on October 7th (2002), this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine will go to Drs. Sydney Brenner, John E. Sulston, and H. Robert Horvitz for their “seminal discoveries concerning the genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death” and for “establishing and using the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans as an experimental model system.” The three scientists have “sowed the seeds” for the current explosion in programmed cell death research.

Dr. Sydney Brenner, currently at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif. and founder of the Molecular Sciences Institute in Berkeley, Calif., carried out his studies at Cambridge University, UK where he showed that the tiny transparent worm C. elegans was useful for studying how cells specialize and organs develop. He also discovered that the chemical compound ethyl methane sulphonate (EMS) could induce specific gene mutations in the genome of C. elegans. His work “laid the foundation for this year’s prize,” said the Nobel Foundation.

Dr. John Sulston of Cambridge University, UK extended Dr. Brenner’s study of C. elegans and developed techniques to delineate cell divisions and cell lineages from the fertilized egg to all the 959 cells in the nematode adult organism. He showed that every nematode underwent exactly the same program of cell division and differentiation, that certain cells in the cell lineage are destined to die through programmed cell death and this could be monitored in the living organism. He characterized the death gene nuc-1.

Dr. Robert Horvitz of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA discovered and characterized a series of key genes including ced-3, ced-4, and ced-9 and their delicate interactions that determine whether certain cells would die in C. elegans. He also found the counterpart of the ced-3 death gene in the human genome (caspase 3). Since then, nearly all the human counterparts of nematode death-related genes have been found by other scientists.

(Discovery Medicine, Vol. 1, No. 12, p2, 2002)

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