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Nobel Prize for medicine split three ways

TT/The Local · 5 Oct 2009, 11:45

Published: 05 Oct 2009 11:45 GMT+02:00

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The three winners, Carol Greider, Jack Szostak, and Elizabeth Blackburn, were awarded the prize “for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase”.

"I'm extremely wound up. I'm quite nervous and shaking inside, but I feel a great honour - you never expect to have a conversation like this," Greider told the TT news agency be telephone about an hour after the Nobel Committee's announcement.

Greider, who teaches at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and whose name had been mentioned as a possible winner in the run-up to the announcement, added it had been suggested to her that she could receive a call from the Swedish capital early Monday.

She was preparing her children's breakfast when Swedish radio called to interview her.

"I was awake, I wake up early anyway, I was doing the laundry when the phone call came" she told Sveriges Radio.

Groundbreaking research by Greider, Szostak, and Blackburn helped solve one of biology's greatest mysteries: how chromosomes, which contain hereditary material, can be copied during cell division and how they are protected from being broken down.

They showed that the explanation for the key molecular switch in cellular ageing lies in the ends of chromosomes, telomeres, and in an enzyme, telomerase, which creates them.

Back in the 1980s, Blackburn and Szostak discovered that a unique DNA sequence in the telomeres protects the chromosomes from degradation.

Meanwhile, Greider and Blackburn identified telomerase, the enzyme that makes telomere DNA.

Together the discoveries help explain how the ends of the chromosomes are protected by the telomeres and that they are built by telomerase.

The research has significance for developing new therapies to treat cancer and hereditary diseases.

"We'd been hunting for this enzyme and when the first clear signs of it appeared ... I thought 'this is very interesting, this is a very important result,' and you don't often feel that about a result," Blackburn said.

Story continues below…

Szostak was overjoyed when speaking to SR from his home in Boston.

He explained that the Nobel committee's call had woken him up, even though he had considered the "not very likely" possibility an early morning call could come from Sweden.

"I said (to my wife) it'll probably come at around 5:30 am, but it came much earlier so I was still sound asleep," he said, a chuckle in his voice.

TT/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

17:21 October 5, 2009 by browneyes10

Congratulations to all winners.
18:42 October 5, 2009 by graeme.r
Professor Blackburn, who has dual Australian-US nationality, grew up in Tasmania (Australia) and took science degrees at the University of Melbourne.
19:21 October 5, 2009 by Dr. Dillner
Okay, let's kick it into gear and win next year's Nobel -- about time for us!
23:07 October 5, 2009 by mkvgtired
graeme.r, She also went to school in Cambridge. She completed virtually all of her research in the US, which is probably why they referred to her as an "American researcher" in the article.
13:13 October 6, 2009 by lolly
It's not uncommon for researchers of her generation to leave AU to research overseas, as at one point, there was no funding.

Doesn't stop her from being an Australian Researcher. If they had removed her nationality (AU) then sure, she's american.
18:46 October 6, 2009 by mkvgtired
So the fact that she has dual nationality means nothing? For research that benefits the global community I think credit should be given to the country where the discovery was made. She is a AU-US citizen, but all of her contributions to the global medical community have come out of her research in the US. The same if a dual US-AU citizen made their contributions in AU, they should be considered Australian.
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