Nobel Prize 2021: US-based scientists jointly awarded for their discovery of temperature and touch receptors

They have explained the molecular basis for sensing heat, cold and mechanical force, which is fundamental for human beings' ability to feel, interpret and interact with their environment
Nobel Prize Medal | Pic: Wikimedia Commons
Nobel Prize Medal | Pic: Wikimedia Commons

Two US-based scientists — David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian — have been jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2021 for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch.

The Nobel laureates' discoveries have unlocked one of the secrets of nature. They have explained the molecular basis for sensing heat, cold and mechanical force, which is fundamental for human beings' ability to feel, interpret and interact with their internal and external environment.

While Julius is from the University of California, San Francisco, Patapoutian from Scripps Research in La Jolla, California. Julius utilised capsaicin — a pungent compound from chili peppers that induces a burning sensation — to identify a sensor in the nerve endings of the skin that responds to heat, whereas Patapoutian used pressure-sensitive cells to discover a novel class of sensors that respond to mechanical stimuli in the skin and internal organs, the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet said in a statement.

"These breakthrough discoveries launched intense research activities leading to a rapid increase in our understanding of how our nervous system senses heat, cold, and mechanical stimuli. The laureates identified critical missing links in our understanding of the complex interplay between our senses and the environment," the statement added.

"This really unlocks one of the secrets of nature," said Thomas Perlmann, secretary-general of the Nobel Committee, while announcing the winners. "It's something that is crucial for our survival, so it's a very important and profound discovery."

"Imagine that you're walking barefoot across a field during a summer morning," said Patrik Ernfors of the Nobel Committee. "You can feel the warmth of the sun, the coolness of the morning dew, a caressing summer breeze and the fine texture of blades of grass underneath your feet. These impressions of temperature, touch and movement are feelings relying on somatosensation. Such information continuously flows from the skin and other deep tissues and connects us with the external and internal world. It is also essential for tasks that we perform effortlessly and without much thought," said Ernfors.

Like last year, this year's Nobel laureates will also receive their awards in their home countries, the Nobel Foundation had announced. The traditional banquet has been cancelled, but the award ceremony will be held at Stockholm's City Hall on December 10 in the presence of a local audience, Xinhua news agency quoted the Foundation as saying in a statement recently.

Last year's prize went to three scientists who discovered the liver-ravaging hepatitis C virus, a breakthrough that led to cures for the deadly disease and the development of tests to keep the scourge from spreading through blood banks. The prestigious award comes with a gold medal and 10 million Swedish kronor (over $1.14 million). The prize money comes from a bequest left by Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1895. This is the first Nobel prize to be awarded this year. The other prizes are for outstanding work in the fields of Physics, Chemistry, Literature, Peace and Economics.

Inputs from PTI and IANS
Edited by Bidushi Das

Related Stories

No stories found.