The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet has today decided to award

the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine


Yoshinori Ohsumi

for his discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy

Now what exactly is “autophagy”?

The word autophagy originates from the Greek words auto-, meaning “self”, and phagein, meaning “to eat”. Thus,autophagy denotes “self eating”. This concept emerged during the 1960’s, when researchers first observed that the cell could destroy its own contents by enclosing it in membranes, forming sack-like vesicles that were transported to a recycling compartment, called the lysosome, for degradation. Difficulties in studying the phenomenon meant that little was known until, in a series of brilliant experiments in the early 1990’s, Yoshinori Ohsumi used baker’s yeast to identify genes essential for autophagy. He then went on to elucidate the underlying mechanisms for autophagy in yeast and showed that similar sophisticated machinery is used in our cells.

Ohsumi’s discoveries led to a new paradigm in our understanding of how the cell recycles its content. His discoveries opened the path to understanding the fundamental importance of autophagy in many physiological processes, such as in the adaptation to starvation or response to infection. Mutations in autophagy genes can cause disease, and the autophagic process is involved in several conditions including cancer and neurological disease.

Students know about Kim Kardashian, Donald Trump, the Weeknd, or Sidney Crosby, but where do the scientific facts that they learn in school come from? Exactly, research done by scientists.   But how many of them know who discovered, and how? or the years of dedication that came with it?

Something good to share with students.