Nobel prizes are all in the DNA, and the neutrinos it seems

7 Oct 2015

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Mapping how cells repair damaged DNA has seen Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar bag this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry, while Takaaki Kajita and Arthur McDonald won the physics Nobel “for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, which shows that neutrinos have mass”.

The trio behind the Chemistry award has already seen the discovery used for developing new cancer treatments, as it provides fundamental insights into how cells function.

Our DNA is damaged every day through the general ordeals of daily life, with our cells’ genomes changing thousands of times per day – that’s before cell division defects come into consideration.

Molecular systems police our DNA, continually monitoring and correcting damages. Lindahl, Modrich and Sancar’s work mapping those systems, at a molecular level, earned them the prize.

Kajita and McDonald, meanwhile, earned the Nobel Prize for Physics for their key contributions to the experiments which demonstrated that neutrinos change identities.

This metamorphosis proves that neutrinos must have mass, completely changing our understanding of how the universe is made up.

The duo worked separately, albeit at the same time, on this topic, with both realising that neutrinos from the atmosphere switch between two identities on their way to Earth.

This combined discovery yielded crucial insights into the “all but hidden world of neutrinos”, according to the Nobel Prize Foundation.

While photons (particles of light) are what we see more often, neutrinos are the most numerous particles in the entire cosmos, smashing into Earth constantly.

Main image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt is senior communications and context executive at NDRC. He previously worked as a journalist with Silicon Republic.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com