Chemistry Nobel honors studies of DNA repair mechanisms

dna ligase

Specialized proteins (blue and yellow) can repair damaged DNA. The 2015 Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to three researchers who determined how the cell works to protect genetic material in the face of environmental damages or DNA-copying errors.

Courtesy of Tom Ellenberger/Washington Univ. School of Medicine, via NIGMS

Studies of DNA’s repair mechanisms have won Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar the 2015 Nobel Prize in chemistry.

DNA encodes the instructions for building and conducting life. But it’s a fragile molecule that can be altered or damaged by sunlight, toxic chemicals, radiation or even normal chemical reactions inside the cell.

Lindahl, of the Francis Crick Institute in England, determined that DNA isn’t actually very stable: It can fall apart on its own, without injury. He described how a cell can remove and replace damaged genetic building blocks.

Sometimes, the cell makes mistakes while copying DNA. Modrich’s work revealed how a cell can correct these genetic errors by replacing DNA’s individual constituents. Modrich is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Duke University. 

Sancar, of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, uncovered which proteins are responsible for patching DNA up after ultraviolet damage, and how they work.

A more detailed story about the prize-winning research will follow later today.

Meghan Rosen is a staff writer who reports on the life sciences for Science News. She earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology with an emphasis in biotechnology from the University of California, Davis, and later graduated from the science communication program at UC Santa Cruz.

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