Congratulations to the three AAAS members who were awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine: James Rothman of Yale University, Randy Schekman of the University California, Berkeley, and Thomas S'dhof of Stanford University earned the award "for their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells," according to the announcement from the Nobel Assembly of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.
A press release from the Nobel Assembly summarizes the significance of their research: "Proper functioning of the cells in the body depends on getting the right molecules to the right place at the right time. Some molecules, such as insulin, need to be exported out of the cell, whereas others are needed at specific sites inside the cell. Molecules produced in the cell were known to be packaged into vesicles, but how these vesicles correctly deliver their cargo was a mystery" before the work of Rothman, Schekman and S'dhof.
The release further explains that "Schekman identified three classes of genes that control different facets of the cell's transport system, thereby providing new insights into the tightly regulated machinery that mediates vesicle transport in the cell. Rothman discovered that a protein complex enables vesicles to fuse with their target membranes. Proteins on the vesicle bind to specific complementary proteins on the target membrane, ensuring that the vesicle fuses at the right location and that cargo molecules are delivered to the correct destination. And S'dhof indentified molecular machinery that senses calcium ions and triggers vesicle fusion, thereby explaining how temporal precision is achieved and how signaling substances can be released from the vesicles on command."
Schekman is currently a professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell biology at UC-Berkeley. He is also an investigator of Howard Hughes Medical Institute. After hearing the news that he'd been honored with a Nobel, Schekman told his wife and the two danced for joy, he said. And in what has become a bit of a tradition at Berkeley, Schekmen indicated that his Nobel laureate status would secure him a free parking space on campus.
Rothman is currently a professor and chairman in the Department of Cell Biology at Yale University. Rothman described the moment he found out about the Nobel Prize as an "out of body experience."
S'dhof is currently a professor of molecular and cellular physiology at Stanford University. He is also an investigator of Howard Hughes Medical Institute. S'dhof was in Spain, traveling for work, when he heard the news. He's said he was still digesting it all and was extremely happy that Schekman and Rothman were also awarded the prize.
Learn more about their award-winning research on Science Now.