Stockholm, Oct 7: Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar have won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for mechanistic studies of DNA repair.
They have been awarded for having mapped, at a molecular level, how cells repair damaged DNA and safeguard the genetic information.
"Their work has provided fundamental knowledge of how a living cell functions and is, for instance, used for the development of new cancer treatments," said a statement issued by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2015 awards three pioneering scientists who have mapped how several of these repair systems function at a detailed molecular level.
In the early 1970s, scientists believed that DNA was an extremely stable molecule, but Tomas Lindahl of Francis Crick Institute and Clare Hall Laboratory, Hertfordshire, UK, demonstrated that DNA decays at a rate that ought to have made the development of life on Earth impossible.
This insight led him to discover a molecular machinery, base excision repair, which constantly counteracts the collapse of our DNA.
Aziz Sancar of University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA, has mapped nucleotide excision repair, the mechanism that cells use to repair UV damage to DNA.
People born with defects in this repair system will develop skin cancer if they are exposed to sunlight. The cell also utilises nucleotide excision repair to correct defects caused by mutagenic substances, among other things.
Paul Modrich of Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, NC, USA, has demonstrated how the cell corrects errors that occur when DNA is replicated during cell division.
This mechanism, mismatch repair, reduces the error frequency during DNA replication by about a thousandfold. Congenital defects in mismatch repair are known, for example, to cause a hereditary variant of colon cancer.
The Nobel Laureates in Chemistry 2015 have provided fundamental insights into how cells function, knowledge that can be used, for instance, in the development of new cancer treatments.