2013 Nobel Prize in medicine won by scientists for work on cell 'delivery system' - James Rothman, Randy Schekman and Thomas Südhof

The three have been rewarded with a prize worth $1.2m (£750,000) for their work on transportation of materials within cells

Science Editor

Three scientists whose work has shed light on the internal “cargo delivery” system of the cell – which ensures that vital chemicals are sent to the correct cellular address at the right time – have each won a share of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Two Americans and a German were jointly awarded the 8m Swedish Kroner (£776,000) prize for their separate work on how miniature, bubble-like packets or “vesicles” are able to pass through the maze of compartments in a cell and identify the correct location for delivering their cargo of chemicals.

Randy Schekman, of the University of California at Berkeley carried out pioneering work in the 1970s on yeast cells which revealed the genes that played a crucial role in this transport system, with mutant cells leading to visible vesicle congestion within the cell.

James Rothman, now at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, worked on mammalian cells in the 1980s and 1990s and showed how proteins enabled vesicles to dock and fuse with their target sites on the complex network of internal membranes separating the compartments within a cell.

Meanwhile, German-born Thomas Sudhof [umlaut over u], now based at Stanford University in California, built on the work of Schekman and Rothman and discovered the precisely-controlled mechanism that allows vesicles to release their load of chemicals at the right location and, crucially, at the right point in time between cells.

Professor Sudhof, who worked on nerve cells, found that the calcium-controlled mechanism at the heart of vesicle function enabled the delivery of chemical messengers or neurotransmitters across the tiny gap or synapse that links two or more communicating neurons.

“Together, Rothman, Schekman and Sudohof have transformed the way we view transport of molecular cargo to specific destinations inside and outside the cell,” said the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

“Their discoveries explain a long-standing enigma of cell biology and also shed new light on how disturbances in this machinery can have deleterious effects and contribute to conditions such as neurological diseases, diabetes and immunological disorders,” it said.

Goran Hansson, secretary of the Nobel committee, compared that the problem of delivering chemical cargo within and between cells to the complex transport network of a modern city.

“Imagine hundreds of thousands of people who are traveling around hundreds of miles of streets; how are they going to find the right way? Where will the bus stop and open its doors so that people can get out? There are similar problems in the cell,” Mr Hansson said.

Professor Schekman said he was suffering from jet lag after returning from a trip to Europe the day before when he was awakened at 1am by a phone call to his home in California by the chairman of the Nobel Prize committee.

“My first reaction was Oh, my God! That was also my second reaction….I wasn't thinking too straight. I didn't have anything elegant to say. All I could say was 'Oh my God,' and that was that,” he told the Associated Press.

“I called my lab manager and I told him to go buy a couple bottles of Champagne and expect to have a celebration with my lab," he added.

Sudhof, who was born in Germany but moved to the U.S. in 1983 and also has American citizenship, said he received the call from the committee while driving toward the city of Baeza, in southern Spain, where he was due to give a talk.

“I got the call while I was driving and like a good citizen I pulled over and picked up the phone. To be honest, I thought at first it was a joke. I have a lot of friends who might play these kinds of tricks,” Professor Sudhof said.

“At least in the United States, which is now my home, there is a lot of soul-searching about the sense of science. And I hope and believe that I can do a little bit to help clarify the positions,” he said.

Professor Rothman said: “This is not an overnight thing. Most of it has been accomplished and developed over many years, if not decades.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer - Midweight / Senior

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks