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BLOG: American trio win Nobel Prize in Medicine 2017

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BLOG: American trio win Nobel Prize in Medicine 2017
Journalists at the Nobel Prize press conference. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT
10:44 CEST+02:00
The winners of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Medicine have been revealed in Stockholm.
  • The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine goes to Jeffrey C Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W Young for "their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm".

13:10 Can fruit flies get jetlag?

That's one of the questions we have just asked Juleen Zierath, Nobel Assembly member and physiology professor at the Karolinska Institute, who explained some of the Nobel Prize winners' research to us.

"It's a way of getting an understanding of how we're coupled to the rotation of our own planet, that's pretty phenomenal. We're in sync with our planet!" she said, sounding quite excited about this year's research.

Here's more of what she had to say. It's fascinating stuff and surprisingly easy to understand even if you, like us, are not a Nobel Prize winner.

That's it for today. Thanks for reading and please join us again tomorrow, for the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Physics.

READ: How this year's Nobel Prize explains jetlag and your body clock


Juleen Zierath. Photo: Lee Roden/The Local

12:33 Another win for the US

As we've noted, all three winners are from the United States, which as it happens is the country with the most Nobel prizes under its belt. There have been 259 US-born laureates in the history of the Nobel Prize.

12:25 Explaining the research

Our deputy editor Lee Roden has just spoken to Swedish-American physiologist Juleen Zierath, who is a member of the Nobel Assembly and a professor at the Department of Molecular Medicine and Surgery at the Karolinska Institute, to find out why they picked these winners and whether or not fruit flies can get jet lag.

We will have her comments shortly, so watch this space.

12:18 'I haven't even had time to have a cup of coffee'

To prevent leaks, the Nobel Prize winners only get told of their award just before it gets announced to the world. If you're based in the US, the time difference means getting a very early phone call from a Swede.

Michael Rosbach told Swedish news agency TT, which managed to get hold of him this morning, that he was "shocked". "I got the call at 5.09am. I'm still shocked. I'm here in my pyjamas with my wife," he said.

"I haven't spoken to my colleagues yet, I haven't even had time to have a cup of coffee. I'm going to talk to my children soon, although one is in California so I don't want to wake her. I'm going to talk to my brother and then I'll get to meet my colleagues when I get to work at 8-9am."

We hope the early wake-up call doesn't mess up his circadian rhythm too much.

11:59 Who are the winners?

Here's some of the Nobel Assembly's background information on the winners.

Jeffrey C Hall, born 1945 in New York, received his doctoral degree in 1971 at the University of Washington in Seattle and was a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena from 1971 to 1973. He joined the faculty at Brandeis University in Waltham in 1974. In 2002, he became associated with University of Maine.

Michael Rosbash, born 1944 in Kansas City, received his doctoral degree in 1970 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. During the following three years, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Since 1974, he has been on faculty at Brandeis University in Waltham, USA.

Michael W Young, born 1949 in Miami, received his doctoral degree at the University of Texas in Austin in 1975. Between 1975 and 1977, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University in Palo Alto. From 1978, he has been on faculty at the Rockefeller University in New York.


Thomas Perlmann, chairman of the Nobel Committe. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

11:50 Fruit flies key in Nobel-winning research

Here's how the Nobel Assembly describes the American trio's research.

"Life on Earth is adapted to the rotation of our planet. For many years we have known that living organisms, including humans, have an internal, biological clock that helps them anticipate and adapt to the regular rhythm of the day. But how does this clock actually work? Jeffrey C Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W Young were able to peek inside our biological clock and elucidate its inner workings. Their discoveries explain how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth's revolutions."

The scientists used fruit flies as a model organism, and were able to isolate a gene that controls the daily biological rhythm. This biological clock functions by the same principles of other organisms, including humans. Explains why Swedes get so grumpy when we don't get our morning fika break (speaking of which…). The biological clock regulates functions such as behaviour, sleep, body temperature and so on, and most of us have probably experienced that weird feeling you have when your body clock and the external environment are out of sync – for example jet lag when you travel across time zones.

"There are also indications that chronic misalignment between our lifestyle and the rhythm dictated by our inner timekeeper is associated with increased risk for various diseases," writes the Nobel Assembly.

11:35 And the winners are...

The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine will be awarded to Jeffrey C Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W Young "for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm".

11:27 Any minute now...

11:22 Winning the Nobel Prize

The Medicine Prize has been awarded since 1901, with the exception of nine years: 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1921, 1925, 1940, 1941 and 1942.

Why these exceptions? Well, the statutes of the Nobel Foundation say: "If none of the works under consideration is found to be of the importance indicated in the first paragraph, the prize money shall be reserved until the following year. If, even then, the prize cannot be awarded, the amount shall be added to the Foundation's restricted funds."

Two of the winners are Australian physician Barry Marshall and pathologist Robin Warren, who were awarded the Nobel Prize in 2005, "for their discovery of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease". Apparently the pair still watch the Nobel announcement together every year.

11:10 Why do the Nobel prizes exist anyway?

Because of Alfred Nobel, the Swedish scientist and inventor who made a vast fortune from his invention of dynamite in 1866, and then ordered the creation of the famous Nobel prizes in his will.

Nobel had decreed that the bulk of his estate should be invested in "safe securities" and, as a result, about 31.5 million Swedish kronor, equivalent today to about 1.7 billion kronor ($210 million), were used to create the Nobel Foundation.

The will specified that prizes should be given in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace.

Here's what Nobel wrote: "One part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics; one part to the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement; one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine; one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction; and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."

Read more about Alfred Nobel here: Who was the Swede behind the Nobel Prize?

10:45 Nobel Prize season starts

Good morning! It's a cool and slightly overcast morning with temperatures around 13C here in Stockholm, where autumn has begun to take hold, and the winner of the first of this year's Nobel prizes is due to be announced in less than an hour. The award of the day is the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology.

The Local Sweden's deputy editor Lee Roden is at the Karolinska Institute just north of Stockholm to get all the latest gossip (or what little gossip there is) from the press conference. Follow him on Twitter here. Live blogging the event for you today is me, Emma Löfgren, the editor of The Local Sweden.

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