6 Oct

Nobel Prizes Awarded in Chemistry and Medicine/Physiology

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded October 5th to Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart, and Bernard L. Feringa for the design and synthesis of molecular machines.

The path to molecular machines started in 1983 with Jean-Pierre Sauvage. Sauvage joined two ring-shaped molecules through a mechanical bond. This double-ring molecule is called a catenane (see figure 1 below). The two rings cannot be separated without breaking a bond of one of the individual rings. The rings can rotate with respect to one another. This motion can be detected through modern biophysical techniques such as Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy.

Figure 1: Catenane


A few years later in 1991, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart designed the rotaxane (figure 2 below). A rotaxane is a molecular ring that has a dumbbell-shaped molecule threaded through its center. The dumbbell ends are larger than the diameter of the ring, therefore trapping the ring into place, preventing disassembly.

Figure 2: Rotaxane


The last piece of the molecular machine came from Bernard L. Feringa in 1999. Feringa developed the molecular motor. He used his molecular motor to spin a molecular rotor blade continually in a single direction, to rotate a glass cylinder that was 10,000x bigger than the motor itself, and to create nanocars (see figure 3 below).

Figure 3: Nanocar


Biological molecular motors are responsible for muscle contraction, transport of macromolecules from one end to another of a cell, and propulsion of bacterial cells.

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded October 3rd to Yoshinori Ohsumi for his work on the mechanism of autophagy.

Autophagy is a natural mechanism of cells that disassemble unnecessary or dysfunctional components. Autophagy allows for the organized degradation and recycling of cellular components.

Autophagy pathway
Figure 4: Autophagy pathway


Ohsumi used baker’s yeast to perform screens that allowed him and his team to identify genes that are essential for autophagy to work properly.


Congratulations to these four men for their advances in science that led to awarding of the Nobel Prize.