Four California Scientists Honored with Nobel Prizes

October 11, 2013 |   | Contact: M. Daniel DeCillis

Four California Nobel Laureates
California’s four new Nobel laureates: (clockwise from top left) Randy W. Schekman, UC Berkeley; Thomas Südhof, Stanford University; Arieh Warshel, University of Southern California; and Michael Levitt, Stanford University.

Four faculty members from California institutions have joined the ranks of Nobel Laureates in 2013, sharing prizes in Medicine and Chemistry.

Randy W. Schekman (UC Berkeley) and Thomas Südhof (Stanford University) shared the 2013 Nobel Prize in Medicine with James E. Rothman of Yale University for their research on protein transport in cells, and how cells control this trafficking to secrete hormones and enzymes, which illuminated the workings of a fundamental process in cell physiology. The Nobel Assembly lauded Rothman, Schekman and Südhof for making known “the exquisitely precise control system for the transport and delivery of cellular cargo. Disturbances in this system have deleterious effects and contribute to conditions such as neurological diseases, diabetes, and immunological disorders.” The research of Schekman, a professor of molecular and cell biology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, about how yeast secrete proteins has contributed to the success of the biotechnology industry, which was able to coax yeast to release useful protein drugs, such as insulin and human growth hormone. Südhof, professor of molecular and cellular physiology, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, has spent the past 30 years prying loose the secrets of the synapse, the all-important junction where information, in the form of chemical messengers called neurotransmitters, is passed from one neuron to another.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Michael Levitt (Stanford University) and Arieh Warshel (University of Southern California), who shared the prize with Martin Karplus of the Université de Strasbourg and Harvard for their work on the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems. Their crucial achievement was to marry classical and quantum mechanics in order to model both the relatively large-scale movements of atoms in a molecule, and the minute dances of the free electrons that shuttle between atoms and spark many chemical reactions. The work of Levitt, a professor of structural biology, work focuses on theoretical, computer-aided analysis of protein, DNA and RNA molecules responsible for life at its most fundamental level. Warshel, distinguished professor of chemistry, has worked to expand the capabilities of computational chemistry, transforming computer simulations into a predictive tool for studying biological systems.

All three California institutions expressed enthusiastic congratulations to their respective laureates this week. “This is the kind of path-breaking work by world-renowned faculty that our academic community nurtures and celebrates,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias, a CCST Senior Fellow, commenting on Warshel’s award earlier this week. “The Nobel Prize… is not only another extraordinary honor for Stanford, it is further proof of the success and impact of interdisciplinary collaboration,” said Stanford University President John Hennessy, commenting on Levitt’s award.

The four new Nobel laureates join a long list of distinguished scientists from California institutions to be honored by the Nobel institutes. Counting the new awardees, eighty-nine Nobel laureates were affiliated with California institutions at the time of their award – approximately ten percent of all award recipients. Stanford University boasts the most recipients (21), followed by UC Berkeley (18) and Caltech (15). CCST includes five Nobel laureates among its Senior Fellows.

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