Two American scientists win Nobel chemistry prize for understanding how the billions of cells within the human body communicate with the outside world

Robert Lefkowitz and Brian Kobilka won the prize for their pioneering roles in revealing the inner workings of an important family of protein molecules called the G-protein-coupled receptors

Understanding how the billions of cells within the human body communicate with the outside world through changes to the three-dimensional structure of protein molecules has won this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Two American scientists will share the 8m Swedish Krona (£750,000) prize for their role in unravelling a key part of the intricate molecular mechanism that allows us to see, smell, feel and respond to changes in the world around us.

Robert Lefkowitz, 69, of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Duke University Medical Centre in Durham, North Carolina and Brian Kobilka, 57, of Stanford University School of Medicine in California won the prize for their pioneering roles in revealing the inner workings of an important family of protein molecules called the G-protein-coupled receptors.

It is these proteins that govern the body’s heightened reactions to the sense of fear, such as increased heart rate and muscle tension through the “flight or fight” hormone adrenaline. They are also involved in being able to sense light, odour and flavour, as well as being responsible for allowing about half the drugs currently in use to achieve their desired effects.

Professor Lefkowitz started to investigate the proteins on the surface of cell membranes involved in cell communication in the 1960s with the help of radioactive tags attached to various hormones.

Professor Kobilka made further advances in 1980s when he isolated a gene for one of these protein receptors which turned out to belong to a large family of similar proteins, called the G-protein-coupled receptors. Last year, his work led to the first image of how the 3-D shape of these receptors changes when stimulated by hormones.

Professor Lefkowitz was woken with the news of his Nobel by a phone call from Sweden in the middle of the night at his North Carolina home, which his wife took as he sleep with ear plugs.

“She said, ‘There's a call here for you from Stockholm’,” Lefkowitz told The Associated Press. “I knew they ain't calling to find out what the weather is like in Durham today.”

Professor Kobilka was also asleep when the call from Stockholm came through at 2.30am his time. “They passed the phone around and congratulated me. I guess they do that so you actually believe them. When one person calls you, it can be a joke, but when five people with convincing Swedish accents call you, then it isn't a joke,“ Professor Kobilka said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: .NET Developer / Web Developer

£35-45K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a .NET Developer / Web ...

Recruitment Genius: Full Time and Part Time Digital Designer - North Kent

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful web design/deve...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders