Nobel prize for geneticists3rd October 2006
The Nobel Prize for medicine has been awarded to two US scientists for their pioneering work in genetics.
Dr Craig Mello based at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and Dr Andrew Fire, based at Stanford University School of Medicine, discovered a fundamental mechanism for controlling the flow of genetic information. The discovery could lead to new treatments for a range of illnesses, including viral infections and cancer.
The pair of scientists have discovered a phenomenon called RNA interference, regulating the expression of genes. It has the potential to help researchers shut down genes which cause harm in the body.
RNA interference occurs in plants, animals and humans, playing an important task in mobilising the body's defences against infection, and in keeping unstable genes under control. The process is now being used to study the function of genes.
Dr Mello and Dr Fire published a paper in the journal Nature in 1998 detailing how RNA interference can effectively shut specific genes down; previously RNA had been thought to have very little role in regulating genes.
Director of the Medical Research Council's Human Genetics Unit, Professor Nick Hastie, said the research had "opened up a whole new field in biology."
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