The 2011 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine was awarded to three immunologists — Jules Hoffman and Bruce Beutler were awarded one half of the prize for their discovery on the activation of innate immunity, and the other half went to Ralph Steinman for his discovery of the dendritic cell. But the awarding of the prize was debated when, days before the official announcement, Steinman died. The Nobel Prize committee, having decided to give Steinman the award before he died, made the determination that he would receive the prize despite the committee's rule against giving posthumous awards.
There was also a brief kerfuffle over Beutler's win when 26 immunologists wrote a letter to Nature complaining that Beutler's sometime-rival Ruslan Medzhitov should also have been acknowledged by the Nobel committee for his work.
Now, say ScienceInsider's Martin Enserink and John Travis, it's Jules Hoffman's turn to be the subject of debate. Bruno Lemaitre — a researcher who worked at Hoffman's lab when this research was done in the 1990s — says he did all the research himself and that Hoffman was uninterested in the work until it became clear that it was groundbreaking research. Lemaitre was the first author on the Cell paper on the Toll gene that made Hoffman famous. But Lemaitre says Hoffman didn't give him any support, and has set up a Web site which he says tells the true story. "Only after Toll's importance was better known did Hoffman truly embrace the work — and, Lemaitre argues, take inappropriate credit for it by describing it as a team effort," Enserink and Travis write. Hoffman has declined to comment on the controversy, but tells Enserink and Travis that he properly acknowledged Lemaitre's contribution to the work in his Nobel lecture.