Scientist’s Study of ‘Self-Eating’ Cells Earns Him the Nobel Prize

Autophagy is a Greek term for self-eating, and it’s also why a Japanese cell biologist won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on Monday. Yoshinori Ohsumi was awarded the honor based on his work on how cells recycle their content, or autophagy, the New York Times reports. When cells are starving, they break down proteins and other materials and reuse them as energy. The autophagy process also destroys invading bacteria and viruses.

Why did Ohsumi win?

The Times: “The process he [Ohsumi] studies is critical for cells to survive and to stay healthy. The autophagy genes and the metabolic pathways he discovered in yeast are used by higher organisms, including humans. And mutations in those genes can cause disease. His work led to a new field and inspired hundreds of researchers around the world to study the process and opened a new area of inquiry.”

Source: New York Times