The Nobel Prize is held up as the pinnacle of scientific achievement in the academic world as well as popular culture. But is this coveted prize a fair way of recognizing contributions to science?
The current rules state that only three living people can win a share of one of the three science prizes each year (physics, chemistry and physiology or medicine). The restrictions have caused much controversy, with highly regarded researchers like Rosalind Franklin, Tsuneko Okazaki and Esther Lederberg missing out.
Geneticist Kat Arney looks at the story of the discovery of RNA splicing, which led to Richard Roberts and Phil Sharp winning a Nobel Prize in 1993, and asks whether the other scientists involved in the work—such as electron microscopist Louise Chow and biochemists Susan Berget and Richard Gelinas—have missed out on the recognition that they deserved due to these restrictive rules.
Arney also explores how advances in DNA sequencing technology are opening up the previously unexplored ‘heart of darkness’ within our chromosomes. Centromeres are highly repetitive, gene-poor regions within each chromosome that are essential for cell division. We now know there’s much more to centromeres than mere DNA, thanks to a study of orangutans living in Borneo and Sumatra, while a recent study from the 1000 Genomes Project has revealed hidden secrets about our evolutionary ancestors lurking in this uncharted genetic territory.
Arney also unravels the complexities of telomeres – the ‘aglets’ at the end of Nature’s shoelaces. These molecular caps at the ends of chromosomes were first discovered by Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider and Jack Szostak (who all won a shared Nobel prize in 2009 for their findings) and are a hot topic in ageing and cancer research, and might even hold the secret to eternal youth.
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Genetics Unzipped is presented by award-winning science communicator and biologist Kat Arney and produced by First Create the Media for the UK Genetics Society. Follow Kat on Twitter @Kat_Arney Genetics Unzipped @geneticsunzip and the Genetics Society @GenSocUK