This year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is going jointly to three scientists for their work figuring out how cells transport their cargo, according to the Karolinska Institute. They will share the $1.25 million prize.
"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?" says Nobel committee secretary Goran Hansson, according to the Associated Press. "There are similar problems in the cell."
By studying yeast cells with defective vesicles, Randy Schekman from the University of California, Berkeley, uncovered three classes of genes that control transportation within the cell, the New York Times adds. Schekman was awakened in California by the call from Stockholm. "I wasn't thinking too straight. I didn't have anything elegant to say," he tells the AP. "All I could say was 'Oh my God,' and that was that." Schekman adds that he called his lab manager to arrange a celebration in the lab.
Meanwhile, Yale University's James Rothman discovered a protein complex that allows vesicles to bind to their intended membrane targets, getting the vesicle contents to a specific location. Rothman notes that he recently lost funding for work building on his discovery, and says that he hopes that having won the Nobel will help him when he reapplies.
And Thomas Südhof at Stanford University systematically studied how nerve cells communicate, finding that vesicles full of neurotransmitters bind to cell membranes to release their contents through a molecular mechanism that responds to the presence of calcium ions. He was on his way to a give a talk when he got his call. "I got the call while I was driving and like a good citizen I pulled over and picked up the phone," Südhof says to the AP. "To be honest, I thought at first it was a joke. I have a lot of friends who might play these kinds of tricks."