Science Of Cell Protein Destruction Wins Nobel

Discoveries concerning the controlled process of cell protein degradation have earned three scientists the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2004. Aaron Ciechanover and Avram Hershko from the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, and Irwin Rose from the University of California, Irvine, share the $1.3 million prize for discovering the process by which a protein called ubiquitin attaches itself to unwanted proteins, giving them the “kiss of death” that marks them for destruction. “It’s a way of tagging proteins that need to be degraded, either because they reach the end of their useful life, or they are damaged, or there are too many of them,” says Richard Sullivan from Cancer Research UK. While work on understanding how proteins are made has received lots of attention, work on understanding how proteins are degraded has been less publicised. But it is now known that when the process goes wrong it can result in cancer, cystic fibrosis and brain degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. “A number of processes are being discovered that rely on ubiquitination,” says Brian Austen of St. George’s Hospital Medical School, London, UK. These processes include DNA repair and transcription, protein quality control and the immune response.

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