Thoughts from a CBU Chemist – Nobel Prize Award for Chemistry

It’s a great day for DNA repair! Today, Tomas Lindahl (Sweden), Paul Modrich (US) and Aziz Sancar (US) who pioneered DNA repair research have been recognized by the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. DNA (or deoxyribonucleic acid), first discovered by Crick and Watson only a bit more than half a century ago, contains all the genetic information for every organism. But DNA is regularly damaged in its normal life so how can this important molecule be protected? Well, it turns out there is a road-side assistance-like system for DNA. Just call 1-800-fix-my-DNA and specialized enzymes will come and repair the damage to preserve the DNA’s essential information. We now know that all life has many repair mechanisms not only for DNA but any other system – this is what Lindahl, Modrich and Sancar discovered. As with all research, today’s Nobel Prize is not an end and a well-done-trophy. It’s more of a starting point to find out all the wonderful (and often surprising) details. If we know now how repair mechanisms work, we will be able to develop better drugs to help people with health conditions.

We have on-going research that studies DNA, anti-cancer treatments and nanotechnology, and enzymatic systems at CBU. I have collaboration projects looking at natural products and synthetic materials that have antibiotic, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory effects. It’s great to see how science builds on all this information and that students are involved hands-on in these exciting fields. Research is always fascinating and I love its interconnections.

About 150 years ago, Alfred Nobel developed dynamite, a rather save explosive using the shock-sensitive nitroglycerin. This lead to road building (parts of highway 125 were blasted 2 years ago for constructions), tunneling and mining – all very useful for civilian life. But people also realized that one can throw it at the enemy during war time. It is said that Alfred Nobel was troubled by this and that is why he wanted a scientific prize recognizing the good for all people. He died of a heart condition in 1896. The very same heart condition that is now treated with nitroglycerin. Who knew.

October 7th is the date for Nobel Prize in Chemistry. October 17 to 25 is the National Chemistry Week. Watch social media as CBU Chemistry has many events planned and will be posting about them.

Matthias Bierenstiel
Associate Professor, Inorganic Chemistry