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BLOG: Sweden's Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2015

Emma Löfgren · 7 Oct 2015, 15:34

Published: 07 Oct 2015 10:00 GMT+02:00
Updated: 07 Oct 2015 15:34 GMT+02:00

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Wednesday, October 7th, The Nobel Prize in Chemistry

  • Three winners share 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

2.24pm Until tomorrow

We're rounding up the live blog for today. Thanks for joining us! Before you get back to whatever you're supposed to be doing, check out the facts you need to know about Sweden's newest Nobel laureate here to be able to impress your scientist friends at parties. Follow us tomorrow when we'll be reporting from the announcement of the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature.

2.20pm Two Tomas Lindahls

As I mentioned Swedes got very excited when Tomas Lindahl was announced as the winner. But some got a little too excited.

Another researcher with exactly the same name works at Linköping University in southern Sweden and the council's press office quickly sent out a celebratory statement, only to be forced to retract it minutes later.

"This Tomas is born in 1954 and is younger, and his name has had a substantial boost now," embarrassed-but-amused press officer Claes Lundkvist told Swedish newswire TT.

2.05pm 'Tomas is entirely focused on research... and wine'

Erik Lindahl also revealed that he and his uncle share a love of wine.

"Occasionally I realize that my wife thinks that I am a bit of a dry researcher and only focusing on that. My father is probably slightly worse - also a professor. Tomas is ten times worse than either of us. Tomas is entirely focused on research, apart from one thing and that’s wine," he told The Local.

"When I was a post-doc at Stanford, where my cousin, who is actually Tomas' daughter, was also at the time… when Tomas came over he had an entire agenda filled with all the vineyards we were going to visit!"

1.45pm 'At least one good scientist in the family'

Tomas Lindahl's nephew Erik Lindahl, who is himself a professor in biophysics at Stockhom University, has been speaking to media following the Nobel Prize announcement. He was contacted at 11.20am, just before the winners were revealed to the public, and rushed to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on the campus.

He spoke of how research and science runs in the Lindahl family. Tomas' brother is a retired professor of medical microbiology at Lund University in southern Sweden and his daughter is also a scientist.

“It’s good to see that we have at least one good scientist in the family,” joked Erik when asked about his uncle’s win by The Local.

He said he was “fairly sure” that it would be the last Nobel win for the Lindahls.

"Two years ago I was exceptionally shocked when my postdoctoral advisor Michael Levitt won the chemistry prize….and I figured, you know, it's a once in a lifetime thing and I will never ever be that close to the prize again and so it’s pretty fun," he said.
12.55pm 'Can help develop new cancer drugs'

The Local's Editor Maddy Savage has managed to interview Professor Peter Brzezinski from the Nobel Assembly, who told The Local that Lindahl's discovery had become increasingly important in recent years.

"It's often the case that discoveries occur in large steps. We accumulate knowledge and then suddenly something happens and we connect things," he said.

"Now we are in a period where this (Lindahl's research) is really useful. For example this information can be used to help develop new cancer drugs."

He said that scientists had had limited success interfering with some DNA repair mechanisms but said that there were still several other mechanisms scientists were currently trying to test.

"Perhaps we can interfere with the other repair mechanism in the (cancer) cell so that it dies instead...this is the current way of thinking about the problem 'how can we attack the cancer cells'," he added.

12.28pm Finding out the hows and whys

Feel free to take a quick break while The Local's Editor Maddy Savage tries to get an interview with one of the members of the committee that picked the Nobel Prize winners. But tune in again shortly to find out what they have to say.

12.25pm Closer look at the winners

Here's another picture of the three 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry laureates, Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar.

The Nobel Prize winners. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

12.21pm Lindahl is a member of the Academy

Interestingly, Tomas Lindahl is actually a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences, which picked him as the winner. But he is based in the UK and has apparently "not participated at all" in the voting process or even in any of the meetings leading up to the announcement. 

12.15pm What about the non-Swedes?

Somewhat unsurprisingly, Swedish media are likely to focus on their homegrown researcher today. But here's where the Royal Academy of Sciences had to say about the other two laureates:

"Aziz Sancar has mapped nucleotide excision repair, the mechanism that cells use to repair UV damage to DNA. People born with defects in this repair system will develop skin cancer if they are exposed to sunlight. The cell also utilises nucleotide excision repair to correct defects caused by mutagenic substances, among other things."

"Paul Modrich has demonstrated how the cell corrects errors that occur when DNA is replicated during cell division. This mechanism, mismatch repair, reduces the error frequency during DNA replication by about a thousandfold. Congenital defects in mismatch repair are known, for example, to cause a hereditary variant of colon cancer."

12.10pm 'It was a surprise'

Remember what we said about the Nobel Prize committees enjoying the element of surprise?

12.09pm Lindahl's research explained

Tomas Lindahl is the 29th Nobel laureate born in Sweden. Here's a graph showing some of his research.

12.00pm Ring, ring, why don't you give him a call?

The Nobel Prize team now talking to Swedish scientist Tomas Lindahl on the phone. They're speaking in English "out of courtesy" to the international audience.

11.55am A Swede among the winners

So one of the Nobel Prize winners is a Swede. Interesting! Tomas Lindahl was born 1938 in Stockholm and has worked in cancer research in the United Kingdom.

Here's what the Nobel team's press release says about him: "[He] demonstrated that DNA decays at a rate that ought to have made the development of life on Earth impossible. This insight led him to discover a molecular machinery, base excision repair, which constantly counteracts the collapse of our DNA.

11.54am The Nobel laureates introduced

11.50am Winners revealed

The 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry goes to Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar "for mechanistic studies of DNA repair". 

11.35am It's about to begin...

11.30am Media attention

11.25am Watch the announcement live

If reading this blog is not enough for you, you can watch the live stream of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry winner being revealed here.

11.14am Reporting live from the announcement

The Local's Editor Maddy Savage is on her way to the press conference at the Royal Academy of Sciences in Stockholm.

10.59am Who's Alfred Nobel?

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry is one of the key awards this week, because Alfred Nobel himself was a chemist. He was also an inventor, engineer and armaments manufacturer who, by the by, is also famous for inventing dynamite. That's not necessarily something you want to brag about, so in his will he also left behind his vast fortune to create the Nobel Prize to be awarded to the best thinkers in academic fields.

Swedish scientist Alfred Nobel's will. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

10.49am Who is going to win?

As usual plenty of names of potential winners are being kicked around ahead of the announcement. Swedes seem to be getting the most excited about French scientist Emmanuelle Charpentier, who worked at Umeå university in northern Sweden for several years. 

Together with her colleague Jennifer A Doudna, a professor at University of California Berkeley in the US, she developed a method for genome editing which helps identify potential drug targets, which may be used to treat specific genetic diseases in humans. They were also mentioned in connection with the Medicine Prize on Monday, which instead went to William C Campbell, Satoshi Omura and Youyou Tu.

But as we have said before, the Nobel committees enjoy the element (not in the periodic table sense) of surprise and the fact that Charpentier is being pegged as one of the favourites means that it is probably safe to assume she is not actually going to win.

10.30am What's the story so far?

Wednesday's announcement is the third this week. If you missed The Local's coverage of the Nobel Prize in Medicine on Monday or the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday, don't forget to check out our live blogs.

10.25am It's trivia time

A total of 106 Nobel Prizes in Chemistry have been awarded between 1901 and 2014. The oldest winner was John B Fenn, who took home the accolade at the age of 85 in 2002. One person, Frederick Sanger, was awarded the prize twice, in 1958 and in 1980. Lucky man. Read more facts here.

10.15am How to win a Nobel Prize

You can also follow the Nobel Prize team on Twitter here. Earlier this morning they posted a rather detailed graph explaining how the Chemistry winner gets selected. To spice things up, I propose next year we just go "eeny, meeny, miny, moe". Anyone with me? No? Okay, I guess that's why they don't let me pick the Nobel laureates.

10.00am Good morning, world!

Story continues below…

Welcome to The Local's live blog of Sweden's third day of Nobel Prize announcements. Our Editor Maddy Savage is as usual on her way down to the press conference at the Royal Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, where the announcement will be made at 11.45am. Meanwhile, you're all stuck with our Deputy Editor Emma Löfgren, who will be live blogging all the latest reactions and silly chemistry jokes.

For more news from Sweden, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Emma Löfgren (emma.lofgren@thelocal.com)

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