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Nobel Winner 'Unlocks One of the Secrets of Nature'

2 US-based scientists take home medicine prize for discovery of receptors for temperature, touch
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 4, 2021 5:33 AM CDT
Key to This Year's Nobel for Medicine: Chili Peppers
Nobel Committee member Patrik Ernfors, right, explains the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine during a press conference at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm on Monday.   (Jessica Gow/TT via AP)

(Newser) "Exciting news" was delivered Monday to two US-based scientists. The Nobel Prize in the field of physiology or medicine has been awarded to David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian, cited for their discovery of receptors for temperature and touch. The winners were announced Monday by Thomas Perlmann, secretary-general of the Nobel Committee, per the AP. Patrik Ernfors of the Nobel Committee said Julius, 65, used capsaicin, the active component in chili peppers, to identify the nerve sensors that allow the skin to respond to heat.

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Patapoutian found separate pressure-sensitive sensors in cells that respond to mechanical stimulation, Ernfors said. "This really unlocks one of the secrets of nature," said Perlmann. "It's actually something that is crucial for our survival, so it's a very important and profound discovery." The pair also shared the prestigious Kavli Award for Neuroscience last year. The discoveries by Julius and Patapoutian "have allowed us to understand how heat, cold and mechanical force can initiate the nerve impulses that allow us to perceive and adapt to the world around us," the committee tweeted.

Last year's Nobel medicine prize went to three scientists who discovered the liver-ravaging hepatitis C virus, a breakthrough that led to cures for the deadly disease and tests to keep the scourge from spreading though blood banks. The prestigious award comes with a gold medal and more than $1.14 million. The prize is the first to be awarded this year. The other prizes are for outstanding work in the fields of physics, chemistry, literature, peace, and economics.

(Read more Nobel Prize stories.)

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