The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1999

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1999 was awarded to Günter Blobel “for the discovery that proteins have intrinsic signals that govern their transport and localization in the cell.”

Günter Blobel Facts:

Günter Blobel

Born: 21 May 1936, Waltersdorf (now Niegoslawice), Germany (now Poland)

Died: 18 February 2018, New York, NY, USA

Affiliation at the time of the award: Rockefeller University, New York, NY, USA

A large number of proteins carrying out essential functions are constantly being made within our cells. These proteins have to be transported either out of the cell, or to the different compartments – the organelles – within the cell. How are newly made proteins transported across the membrane surrounding the organelles, and how are they directed to their correct location?

These questions have been answered through the work of this year’s Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, Dr Günter Blobel, a cell and molecular biologist at the Rockefeller University in New York. Already at the beginning of the 1970s he discovered that newly synthesized proteins have an intrinsic signal that is essential for governing them to and across the membrane of the endoplasmic reticulum, one of the cell’s organelles. During the next twenty years Blobel characterized in detail the molecular mechanisms underlying these processes. He also showed that similar “address tags”, or “zip codes”, direct proteins to other intracellular organelles.

The principles discovered and described by Günter Blobel turned out to be universal, operating similarly in yeast, plant, and animal cells. A number of human hereditary diseases are caused by errors in these signals and transport mechanisms. Blobel’s research has also contributed to the development of a more effective use of cells as “protein factories” for the production of important drugs.

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