Posts Tagged ‘lindaumeeting’

Cells have many ways to live, only a couple of ways to die

12 Jul

Robert Horvitz's Nobel Prize came largely for his work in turning a small, transparent worm that lives in the dirt into an experimental system that has won several others Nobel Prizes since. But his pioneering use of C. elegans came about because he was interested in a problem that was simply easier to address in the animal: how and when cells in an organism choose to die through a process called apoptosis. It was his research in this field that was the focus of his talk at the Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting.

You might not be aware of it, but many of an animal's cells kill themselves for the greater good of the organism they're part of. In adults, cells with a viral infection or extensive DNA damage (or immune cells that react to the body itself) are induced to commit an organized suicide, slicing up their DNA into short fragments and packaging up their membranes and proteins for easy digestion by their neighbors. The process also takes place during development: we all have webbing between our digits in utero that's gone by birth, and millions of apparently healthy neurons die off to form the adult brain.

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How to win a Nobel Prize: fail, persist, iterate

01 Jul

To hear Oliver Smithies tell it, there was a direct line from one of his first lab projects to the experiments that won him a Nobel Prize. Smithies showed that it was possible to target genes for disruption in mice, a technique that has revolutionized genetics and provided information relevant to human health. 

You wouldn't have guessed it based on the first slide of his talk at the Lindau Nobel Laureates meeting taking place this week in Germany. The slide showed an early page from Smithies' lab notebook of a failed attempt to isolate insulin, an experiment that he had dragged himself into the lab to perform on New Year's Day. 

By showing page after page of his notebook to the audience, Smithies gradually told the tale of how failing to purify insulin eventually led him to a successful scientific career.

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