From fission to fusion: A perspective on the research that won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2013
Secretion is widespread in all eukaryotic cells: all of us experience this in the course of daily life – saliva, mucus, sweat, tears, bile juice, adrenalin, etc. – the list is extremely long. How does a cell manage to repeatedly spit out some stuff without losing the rest? The answer is: through regulated vesicle trafficking within the cell. The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2013 was awarded to Drs Randy Schekman, James E Rothman and Thomas C Südhof for their ‘discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells’. Dr Randy Schekman and his colleagues discovered a number of genes required for vesicle trafficking from the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and Golgi; the James E Rothman group unravelled the protein machinery that allows vesicles to bud off from the membrane and fuse to their targets; and Dr Thomas C Südhof along with his colleagues revealed how calcium ions could instruct vesicles to fuse and discharge their contents with precision. These enabled the biotechnology industry to produce a variety of pharmaceutical and industrial products like insulin and hepatitis B vaccines, in a cost-efficient manner, using yeast and tissue cultured cells.