Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2006

This year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine goes to:

Andrew Fire
Craig Mello

“for their discovery of RNA interference – gene silencing by double-stranded RNA”

Andrew Fire is Professor of Pathology and Genetics at the Stanford University School of Medicine in California, and Craig Mello a Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Fire and Mello have discovered a fundamental mechanism for controlling the flow of genetic information in organisms, which could lead to treatments for a range of illnesses inclusing viral infections and cancer. The mechanism – called RNA interference – occurs in both plants and animals, mobilising the organism’s defence against infections, and keeping unstable genes under control.

An organism’s genome – or complete set of genes – sends instructions for the manufacture of proteins from DNA in a cell nucleus to the protein-synthesising machinery in the cytoplasm surrounding it. These insructions are passed via a molecule called messenger RNA (mRNA). RNA interference can upset the process, and result in the shutting down of specific genes. In gene silencing, tiny segments of RNA fool the cell into destroying mRNA before the gene can produce its protein. It is thought that the mechanism evolved as a way of protecting organisms against invading viruses which produce double-standed RNA when they replicate inside cells.

Congratulations to Drs Fire and Mello!

Keywords: science chemistry medicine