Thursday, October 05, 2006

Nobel prizes in science announced...

Check out www.nobelprize.org for the 2006 Nobel prize announcements and tutorials. Each recipient is linked to their lab home page so you can visit them directly, something I strongly recommend.

Both the medicine and chemistry prizes relate directly to genetics. First, Andrew Fire and Craig Mello have been honored with the Nobel prize for medicine for their discovery of RNA interference and explanation for how it works. RNA interference is both a defense mechanism against double stranded RNA, but it is also used by cells to regulate gene expression by providing a way to turn certain genes off. Also synthetic double stranded RNAs may provide a way to control certain genes related to certain diseases, such as cancer. At the very least, the ability to turn off genes at will has provided a new tool for understanding how genes interact with each other. A brief tutorial on RNA interference is at the Noble site.

Next, the Nobel prize in chemistry has gone to Roger Kornberg for his detailed studies of how RNA polymerase catalyses transcription of RNA from DNA. His studies enable us see exactly transcription works at the atomic level. It is interesting to remember that Dr. Kornberg's father, Arthur Kornberg shared the Nobel prize in medicine with Serveo Ochoa in 1959 for studying the enzyme involved in DNA replication, DNA polymerase.

The physics prize has gone to John Mather and George Smoot for their studies of the cosmic background radiation left over from the origin of the Universe in the so called big bang. Their work has taken cosmology from a speculative to an empirical and testable science, and, by testing predictions made by modern cosmology, destroys for ever the naive notion that historical sciences cannot be tested.

All of these prizes significantly extend our understanding of the Universe and show that in spite of the antiscience attitudes that have gripped parts of the world including my own state of Kansas, science is still alive and well and investigating questions relating to very small scales of time and space as well as to vast stretches of time and space.

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