Cellular 'shipping' wins Nobel Prize

James Rothman and Randy Schekman, both from the US, and Thomas Sudhof, James Rothman, Randy Schekman, and Thomas Sudhof

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Three scientists have won the Nobel Prize for medicine or physiology after discovering how cells precisely transport material.

James Rothman and Randy Schekman, both from the US, and Thomas Sudhof, from Germany, shared the prize.

They found the way "vesicles" act like a fleet of ships transporting their goods to the exact destination.

It is crucial for the way the brain communicates, the release of hormones and parts of the immune system.

Start Quote

My first reaction was 'Oh, my God! That was also my second reaction”

End Quote Prof Randy Schekman Nobel Prize Winner

The billions of cells which make up the body are not empty blobs, instead they are packed with precise machinery. In order for a cell to function properly it needs the right materials in the right place at the right time.

Vesicles are tiny bubbles of fat which act as the cell's internal shipping service. They can send material such as enzymes, neurotransmitters and hormones, around the cell. Or they can fuse with the outer surface of the cell and release their contents into the wider body.

The prize committee said the findings: "Had a major impact on our understanding of how cargo is delivered with timing and precision within and outside the cell.

"Without this wonderfully precise organisation, the cell would lapse into chaos."

A defective vesicle transport system is implicated in diabetes and brain disorders.

'Oh my God'

Prof James Rothman, from Yale University, found proteins embedded in the vesicles which act as the docking mechanism meaning the cargo is released in the correct location.

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They have revolutionised understanding of how cells are organised which is fundamental to huge number of diseases”

End Quote Dr Lisa Swanton University of Manchester

Prof Randy Schekman, from the University of California at Berkeley, discovered the genes which regulated the transport system in yeast. He found that mutations in three genes resulted in a "situation resembling a poorly planned public transport system".

After hearing of the award he said: "My first reaction was 'Oh, my God! That was also my second reaction."

Prof Thomas Sudhof, originally from Germany but now at Stanford University in the US, made breakthroughs in how the transport system works in the brain so that neurotransmitters are released at the precise time.

Dr Lisa Swanton, from the University of Manchester, said: "Vesicles are like a postman's bag, they have to get to a specific address.

"They have worked out the mechanism of sending to the right location, they have advanced the field enormously.

"They have revolutionised understanding of how cells are organised which is fundamental to huge number of diseases."

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