by Matthew Cobb
It’s that time of year again. The next week will see pictures of cheerful looking middle-aged (or older) men (they will be mainly men) holding bottles of champagne and explaining work they did years ago which has just won them fame and fortune and a Nobel Prize. Some of them will have beards. Many of them will be from the USA. This much history tells us. What is more difficult to predict is WHO will win which prize, with the exception of physics which will presumably go to Higgs for his boson (pronounced bo-zon).
First up (I think) is Physiology or Medicine, which is announced tomorrow. Here is my prediction: Jeff Hall, Michael Rosbash and Mike Young for their work on discovering the mechanism by which ‘clock’ genes work. They have won a series of major prizes over the last 18 months, and it seems inevitable that the Nobel Committee will soon be honouring them, so why not this year?
These clock genes were first found in the insect Jerry and I study: Drosophila melanogaster. In 1971 Ron Konopka, working with the late Seymour Benzer, announced the discovery of a gene, which they called period, which changed the fly’s ‘circadian’ rhythm. Furthermore, Konopka and Benzer had made three mutants in this gene – one mutation made the clock tick slowly (per long) so the flies were on a 29 hour cycle, one made the clock tick fast (per short) so the flies were on a short cycle (19 hours ) and another was a null mutation in which the clock was broken and the flies had no rhythm.
Through the 1980s and 90s, Hall, Rosbash and Young worked out how the fly biological clock works, and it soon became apparent that this is not only a clock in Drosophila – many of the key elements of the fly’s clock also function in other animals, including humans.
To get a better idea of what the research entailed, here is a video in two parts explaining the research, which was made to mark the award of the Shaw Prize to the trio a few months ago. As you’ll see from the first video, Jeff Hall is an interesting character. Jeff is now retired, but even when he was active he was also a non-professional historian of the American Civil War, publishing a book about the battle of Gettysburg. He also has a reputation for being somewhat unpredictable; his Stockholm acceptance speech would no doubt be a gem.
Chip in below with your predictions for this Nobel and the others.
h/t: Joerg Albert for the videos.