Nobel Fever strikes again

Every year at about this time we start to wonder who will be this year’s Nobel Prize recipients (the Prizes will be announced starting next Monday, October 3).220px-nobel_prize

Who are your predictions?

As a reminder, here are some of the recent laureates (in Physiology or Medicine, or Chemistry) with their topics, taken from the wonderfully informative Nobel Prize website

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

2015 William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura “for their discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites”


Youyou Tu “for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against Malaria” (as this work focused on the medicinal plant Artemisia annua, this award provided a rare moment of inclusion for plant scientists).

2014 John O’Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard I. Moser “for their discoveries of cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain”

2013 James E. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman and Thomas C. Südhof  “for their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells”

2012 Sir John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka “for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent”

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry

2015 Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar “for mechanistic studies of DNA repair”

2014 Eric Betzig, Stefan W. Hell and William E. Moerner “for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy”

2013 Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel “for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems”

2012 Robert J. Lefkowitz and Brian K. Kobilka “for studies of G-protein-coupled receptors”

The forecasts for this year’s awards vary, but several sites predict that CRISPR/Cas will be recognized (note that Jennifer Doudna, Emmanuel Charpentier and Feng Zhang were widely predicted to win for this discovery last year).  But the precedent for this discovery in terms of who should own this sure-to-be lucrative patent is being debated (here is a recent update of this complex issue), and it’s not clear who would get the prize. One of the most recognized prediction sites, Thomas Reuters, proposes that the Chemistry prize will go to George Church and Feng Zhang “for application of CRISPR-cas9 gene editing in mouse and human cells”. (This article provides insights into Church’s role in the application of this technology). What do you think? Is this the year for CRISPR, and if so who will get the honors?

CRISPR/Cas aside, some of the other topics being mentioned as candidates for Nobels include (courtesy of CuriousWavefunction and Everyday Scientist:

  • Genomics and Sequencing
  • Nuclear Receptors
  • DNA fingerprinting
  • T-cell receptor

It’s widely recognized that the Lasker Award often precedes the Nobel Prize. Recent Lasker topics include:

  • Hypoxia
  • DNA damage and repair
  • Unfolded protein response
  • Molecular motors

So, are you ready to make a prediction? Let us know yours in the comments below.

That aside, let’s talk about plant science.

Nobel Prizes for plant science are few and far between. Besides Youyou Tu (2015 Physiology or Medicine, for the development of anti-malarial drugs), we had Barbara McClintock (1983, Physiology or Medicine, for her discovery of mobile genetic elements in plants), Melvin Calvin (1961, Chemistry, for his research on the carbon dioxide assimilation in plants), and of course Normal Borlaug (1970, Peace, for his humanitarian work).

The World Food Prize provides one opportunity for recognition in the field of agriculture and plant science – recent laureates include Sanjaya Rajaram and the trio of Marc Van Montagu, Mary-Dell Chilton, and Robert T. Fraley.

If there were a plant science Nobel Prize, what topics or individuals would you like to see recognized?

Here are some topics I would propose:

  • The discovery of C4 photosynthesis. I’d cite Hatch and Slack for this. See Furbank.
  • Plant transformation. Van Montagu, Chilton and Fraley are good choices for this, following the World Food Prize’s lead.
  • The development of Arabidopsis as a model system – pre-genome era. It would be very difficult to assign only three names to this though. For some of the individuals deserving of recognition, see for example Koornneef and Meinke and Somerville and Koornneef.
  • Post-genomic tools for plant science.  Again, too many contributors to make it easy to narrow down to three, but I would certainly include Joe Ecker in my award.
  • The development of submergence-tolerant SUB1 rice. Not only an important contributor to food security, but an elegant demonstration of the power of applied genetics. See Bailey-Serres et al.
  • Phytochrome and other photoreceptors. Again, too many key discoveries and contributors to make it easy to narrow this down to three, but I would include Winslow Briggs as one of the laureates.

Your turn: What are the key breakthroughs and discoveries that should be considered for a Nobel Prize in Plant Science?

1 thought on “Nobel Fever strikes again”

  1. More Nobels associated with plant systems:

    Paul D. Boyer and John E. Walker (1997, Chemistry): Elucidation of enzymatic mechanism underlying the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

    Rudolph Marcus (1992, Chemistry): Electron transfer theory: included application to photosynthesis.

    Hartmut Michel; Robert Huber; and Johannes Deisenhofer (1988, Chemistry): X-ray structure of bacterial reaction center.

    Peter Mitchell (1978, Chemistry check): Oxidative and photosynthetic phosphorylation: chemi-osmotic theory.

    Robert Burns Woodward (1965, Chemistry): Total synthesis of chlorophyll, vitamin B12, and other natural products.[

    Melvin Calvin (1961, Chemistry): Carbon-di oxide assimilation in photosynthesis.

    Richard Kuhn (1938, Chemistry): carotenoids; vitamins

    Paul Karrer (1937, Chemistry): Carotenoid structure; flavins; vitamin B2

    Hans Fischer (1930, Chemistry): Chlorophyll chemistry; hemin synthesis

    Richard Martin Wilstatter (1915, Chemistry): Chlorophyll purification and structure, carotenoids, etc.

    List from Govindjee


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