Cell toolbox for DNA monitoring and repair wins Nobel Prize for Chemistry

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Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2015
Professors Sara Snogerup Linse, Goran K. Hansson and Claes Gustafsson, members of the Nobel Assembly, talk to the media at a news conference at the Royal Swedish Academy in Stockholm October 7, 2015. Sweden's Tomas Lindahl, the U.S.-based Paul Modrich and Turkish-born Aziz Sancar won the 2015 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for work on mapping how cells repair damaged DNA, the award-giving body said on Wednesday. Reuters/Scanpix Sweden

Three pioneering scientists have been awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for mapping how damaged DNA is repaired by cells and genetic information is protected at a detailed molecular level. The new work provides significant knowledge of how a cell in the human body functions and could be used to develop new treatments for cancer.

Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar, the scientists, have analysed how various repair systems function in the body. They have found that a host of molecular systems help a human’s genetic material not to break up into small parts or complete chemical chaos by continuously monitoring and repairing DNA.

In the early 1970s, DNA has been thought to be an extremely stable molecule. However, Lindahl, a Swedish scientist specialising in DNA damage and repair, has found that DNA decays that it may even halt the development of life on Earth.

Even without the presence of harmful external factors, a DNA molecule has been found to be inherently unstable. Lindahl then discovered that the possible collapse of DNA is continuously being prevented through “molecular machinery, base excision repair” in the body.

Every day UV radiation as well as free radicals and other carcinogenic substances are damaging the DNA. A cell’s genome is taking thousands of spontaneous changes each day in the human body, which may sometimes result to defects, like colon cancer, when DNA is replicated during cell division that happens several million times each day.

However, it has been discovered that a living cell works to reverse the errors that occur when DNA is copied during cell division. Modrich, a professor of Biochemistry at James B. Duke and member of the Duke Cancer Institute, found that the error frequency during DNA replication can be reduced by around a thousandfold through the cell’s mechanism of mismatch repair.

Another part of the work is the mapped nucleotide excision repair, identified as the cell’s mechanism of repairing UV damage to DNA. Sancar, a professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the Sarah Graham Kenan university, found that the risk of developing skin cancer is higher on people born with defects in this repair system, especially when exposed to sunlight.

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