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Nobel for Touch, Temperature Perception

This year's Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology is going to two researchers who have described the molecular workings behind how people perceive touch and temperature, the Associated Press reports.

It notes that the University of California, San Francisco's David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian from Scripps Research Institute worked separately to identify nerve receptors that respond to heat or to mechanical sensations like pressure. As Science reports, Julius used capsaicin — found in chili peppers — to tease out an ion channel called TRPV1 and identify the gene encoding it that enables the reaction to heat. It adds that Julius as well as Patapoutian then identified another channel, TRPM8, that reacts to cold, as well as to the coolness of menthol. Patapoutian further used a micropipette with an electrical signal to uncover a gene and ion channel, called Piezo1, that underpin cells' reactions to being poked, Science notes.

"This really unlocks one of the secrets of nature," Thomas Perlmann, secretary-general of the Nobel Committee, says according to the AP. "It's actually something that is crucial for our survival, so it's a very important and profound discovery."

Nils-Göran Larsson, the chair of the Nobel Committee, adds that the receptors will likely be future drug targets, though Science notes that targeting the ion channels has so far been challenging.