Duke University's Robert Lefkowitz and Brian Kobilka at Stanford University have won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work on G-protein-coupled receptors, reports the Associated Press. In a press release, the Nobel committee notes that, prior to their work, the receptor through which cells could sense and respond to their environments was not known. Lefkowitz and Kobilka, who was a postdoc in Lefkowitz's lab, uncovered the receptors and traced back their genes. "The genetic blueprint indicated that the shape of the protein included seven long spiral strings that wove through the cell membrane seven times," The New York Times adds. The researchers they realized that that was the same shape as a receptor found in the eye and that it was a family of receptors — the G-protein-coupled receptors.
Today, the Times adds, about 1,000 of these receptors are known, and they are the targets of about half of all medications. "They work as a gateway to the cell," Lefkowitz told a news conference in Stockholm, according to the AP. "As a result they are crucial ... to regulate almost every known physiological process with humans."