Nobel Prize won by scientists who unlocked mystery of how humans feel warmth and touch

Andrew Griffin
Monday 04 October 2021 12:35
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<p>Committee member Patrik Ernfors explains the research field of the winners of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian</p>

Committee member Patrik Ernfors explains the research field of the winners of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian

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Two scientists have been awarded a Nobel Prize for discoveries about the most fundamental ways we relate to the world.

The pair’s work on temperature and touch – how we feel the warmth of the sun or the skin of another person – was recognised with the prize for physiology or medicine.

As well as helping illuminate those experiences that are most central to being in the world, it helped explain how humans have survived for so long.

David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian, both based in the US, won the award announced on Monday by Thomas Perlmann, secretary-general of the Nobel Committee.

Patrik Ernfors of the Nobel Committee said Julius, 65, used capsaicin, the active component in chilli peppers, to identify the nerve sensors that allow the skin to respond to heat.

Patapoutian found separate pressure-sensitive sensors in cells that respond to mechanical stimulation, he said.

“This really unlocks one of the secrets of nature,” said Perlmann. “It’s actually something that is crucial for our survival, so it’s a very important and profound discovery.”

The pair also shared the prestigious Kavli Award for Neuroscience last year. 

Last year’s Nobel medicine prize went to three scientists who discovered the liver-ravaging hepatitis C virus, a breakthrough that led to cures for the deadly disease and tests to keep the scourge from spreading through blood banks.

The prestigious award comes with a gold medal and 10 million Swedish kronor (more than £840,000). The prize money comes from a bequest left by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1895.

The prize is the first to be awarded this year. The other prizes are for outstanding work in the fields of physics, chemistry, literature, peace and economics. 

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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