Nobel Prize Medicine awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi 2016

Nobel Prize Medicine awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi 2016 – The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi “for his discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy.” The professor is currently at the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

  • Ohsumi is a cell biologist.Nobel Prize Medicine awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi 2016
  • He discovered and elucidated mechanisms underlying autophagy, a fundamental process for degrading and recycling cellular components.
  • He received the Kyoto Prize for Basic Science in 2012.

Background:

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  • The 1974 Medicine laureate, Christian de Duve, coined the term autophagy (meaning “self eating”) in 1963.
  • This concept emerged during the 1960s, when researchers first observed that the cell could destroy its own contents by enclosing it in membranes, forming sack-like vesicles that were transported to a recycling compartment, called the lysosome, for degradation.

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What is Autophagy?

  • Autophagy is essentially the body’s internal recycling program – scrap cells are hunted down and the useful parts are stripped out to generate energy or create new cells.
  • It is a crucial process to prevent cancerous growths, and, by maintaining a healthy metabolism, helps protect against conditions like diabetes.

Contributions of Yoshinori Ohsumi:

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  • Difficulties in studying the phenomenon meant that little was known until, in a series of brilliant experiments in the early 1990’s, Yoshinori Ohsumi used baker’s yeast to identify genes essential for autophagy. He then went on to elucidate the underlying mechanisms for autophagy in yeast and showed that similar sophisticated machinery is used in our cells.
  • Ohsumi’s discoveries led to a new paradigm in our understanding of how the cell recycles its content. His discoveries opened the path to understanding the fundamental importance of autophagy in many physiological processes, such as in the adaptation to starvation or response to infection. Mutations in autophagy genes can cause disease, and the autophagic process is involved in several conditions including cancer and neurological disease.