Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Nobel Roundup

The blogosphere lit up this week with rampant Nobel prize-related speculation and oddsmaking. So now that the big three science Nobels have been announced (sorry, economists), let me throw in my two cents.
It looks like RNA-related research projects are the leggings of the science community this fall. (I'll qualify that remark by saying that I have much more hope for the staying power of RNA research). The Nobels in Medicine and Chemistry both involve RNA in some way. You've almost certainly heard of DNA. I'll go out on a limb with an analogy here and liken RNA to DNA's free-spirited daughter. DNA usually is stably linked to another strand of its own kind, and it's always there when RNA is made. RNA is a more transient entity. It moves out of DNA's house in the cell's nucleus pretty quickly and promptly discloses all the family secrets. RNA has also been known to dabble in some funky activites, things like picking up habits from enzymes and dabbling in a little contortion.

The Chemistry prize was awarded for molecular-level snapshots of the "birth" of RNA, a process called transcription. The Medicine Prize was awarded for the discovery of RNA interference, an invaluable method for scientists trying to uncover a gene's function. Much of the media is framing both of the prizes as important for therapeutic applications, but we're still very far away from a real, live drug.

By the way, It seems like the Nobel committee is sweet on structural biology lately. The 2003 Nobel was awarded in part to another X-ray crystallographer. I blogged a little about X-ray crystallography here.

I was proud of myself this year, because I'm no physicist and it's the first time I can remember not having to read up on the science behind the prize. The Physics prize was awarded for work in cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB). Briefly, the CMB is a sort of residual signature of the Big Bang, and studying it has lent further support to the Big Bang theory and shed some more light (no pun intended) into the origins of the universe. I had read about CMB in a book, The Light at the Edge of the Universe, by my former science writing prof, Mike Lemonick. Looks like he has a little dirt on the Physics prize here.

In case you're wondering why I chose the title "Nobel Roundup", it's because I found this little gem while searching for a layperson-level RNA link. Giddyup!



At 12:21 PM, Blogger Ashutosh said...

That's why I think the recent (and some not so recent) work on solving the structure of the ribosome will and should get a prize. Crystallography is really chemistry.

At 11:52 AM, Anonymous ryan said...

To quote Steven Colbert, "watch out rna, because uncle sam just laid the smackdown on your transcription process"

At 3:40 PM, Anonymous Jack said...

Yet another year when Smac-based mimetics got no respect!


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