Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine awarded—and a contest

It’s that time of year again. . . and the lucky recipient for the Physiology or Medicine Prize is (envelope, please). . . .Yoshinori Ohsumi, a professor in Tokyo Institute of Technology’s Frontier Research Center. The Nobel citation begins like this:

This year’s Nobel Laureate discovered and elucidated mechanisms underlying autophagy, a fundamental process for degrading and recycling cellular components.

The word autophagy originates from the Greek words auto-, meaning “self”, and phagein, meaning “to eat”. Thus,autophagy denotes “self eating”. This concept emerged during the 1960’s, when researchers first observed that the cell could destroy its own contents by enclosing it in membranes, forming sack-like vesicles that were transported to a recycling compartment, called the lysosome, for degradation. Difficulties in studying the phenomenon meant that little was known until, in a series of brilliant experiments in the early 1990’s, Yoshinori Ohsumi used baker’s yeast to identify genes essential for autophagy. He then went on to elucidate the underlying mechanisms for autophagy in yeast and showed that similar sophisticated machinery is used in our cells.

Ohsumi’s discoveries led to a new paradigm in our understanding of how the cell recycles its content. His discoveries opened the path to understanding the fundamental importance of autophagy in many physiological processes, such as in the adaptation to starvation or response to infection. Mutations in autophagy genes can cause disease, and the autophagic process is involved in several conditions including cancer and neurological disease.

You can read the very lucid description of Ohsumi’s research at the link above.

It’s unusual these days for the Prize (except in literature) to go to a single individual. Kudos to Professor Ohsumi, who’s surely having a very good day.


Yoshinori Osumi

Now for a contest: guess the recipients of the physics and literature Nobels. Physics usually gets up to three awardees, but literature prizes go to one person. Those who correctly guess one physics laureate and the literature laureate will get an autographed copy of Faith Versus Fact. In case of ties the first winner gets the prize. If nobody wins in both categories, then those who guess the literature laureate will get the book (again, the first correct entry in case of ties wins).

You have to give both names before the prizes are awarded, and only one guess per customer (put it in the comments below).


  1. Billy Bl.
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    I’d be surprised if anyone won your contest. The winner of the literature prize always seems impossible to guess.

    • Dominic
      Posted October 3, 2016 at 8:17 am | Permalink

      Yes. For years a Norwegian writer Jon Fosse has been tipped, but my goodness, there are so many possibilities…

      • Billy Bl.
        Posted October 3, 2016 at 11:00 am | Permalink

        The choice for literature is more subjective than the others and often has a political, or at least a geographical, element to it. I agree with the LIGO team as good candidates. Maybe Rushdie for literature to piss off the Muslims.

        • Posted October 3, 2016 at 11:53 am | Permalink

          My guess: not Rushdie or anyone else likely to piss off extremist Muslims.

  2. geraldbnunn
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    Rainer Weiss for Physics and Adunis in Literature

    • Dominic
      Posted October 3, 2016 at 8:18 am | Permalink

      Adunis? Who he?

  3. Ronaldo Marin
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    The winner of the physics Nobel prize probably will be connected to the detection of gravitational waves. For me are the following researchers: Kip Thorne and Ronald Drever, from Caltech and Rayner Weiss from MIT

  4. Rupinder Sayal
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Guess the literature laureate?
    Man, that’s hard..
    I don’t even… Anyway, here we go..
    Literature: Haruki Murakami
    Physics: The LIGO Team, i.e.
    Rainer Weiss,
    Kip Thorne, &
    Ronald Drever.

  5. taekmini
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 7:57 am | Permalink


    rainer weiss
    kip thorne
    ronald drever


    Murakami Haruki

  6. taekmini
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    i want to delete my first reply but i cant delete it. adunis for literature

  7. Posted October 3, 2016 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Physics: Weiss, Drever and Thorne

    Literature: Joyce Carol Oates

    (If Drever doesn’t get it this time, it might be too late since he has dementia.)

    (Overdue physics long shot: John Clauser)

    • Dominic
      Posted October 3, 2016 at 8:21 am | Permalink

      Blow me down – an author I have heard of & even read earlier this year!

  8. Dominic
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    My chum Rebecca who works for the Nobel Prize is in the front row for these announcements – but I have no hotline preview so my guess is as good as yours & I have NO idea!!!

  9. Michael
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    Physics: Kip Thorne
    Literature: Haruki Murakami

  10. Posted October 3, 2016 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Rainer Weiss – Physics
    Philip Roth – Literature

    • Mark R.
      Posted October 3, 2016 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      Darn, I was going to say Roth but you beat me to it.

  11. eric
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Well, Drever Thorne & Weiss appear to be the shoe-ins for physics. I’ll take “all three” for by entry.

    For lit its anybody’s guess, but I’ll go with Philip Ross.

    • Ralph
      Posted October 3, 2016 at 10:28 am | Permalink

      Thorne, Drever & Weiss.

      Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

      • Ralph
        Posted October 3, 2016 at 10:30 am | Permalink

        Oops, that wasn’t meant to be a reply to eric. And I think Josh scooped me on the literature pick below, so never mind.

  12. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    I don’t have any action down in the betting markets on the Lit prize this year so let me vote here with my heart: Philip Roth. I despair that the Swedish Academy judges will ever give it to him — that not giving it to him has become its own thing after all this time — but find it difficult to imagine that anyone else has made as significant a contribution to literature over the last half century (although I can’t claim to have read all the international worthies whose names appear to be in the running).

    For the physics prize, I’ll go with Kip Thorne.

  13. Josh
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Literature: Ngugi Wa Thiong’o
    Physics: Rainer Weiss

  14. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Literature: A.S. Byatt
    Physics: Vera Rubin & Kent Ford
    (for discovery of dark matter)

    (A bit more of a wish list than a guess)

  15. Juan
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Physics: Weiss
    Literature: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

  16. Merilee
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 12:01 pm | Permalink


  17. Merilee
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Philip Roth would be great.

  18. Michael Fisher
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    I propose two American Jews, one observant & the other atheist

    PHYSICS: Since there is no posthumous Nobel Prize I will go with Vera Rubin while there’s still time [b. 1928]. She is known for her work on Dark Matter [or rather galaxy rotation rates] – “Fame is fleeting, my numbers mean more to me than my name. If astronomers are still using my data years from now, that’s my greatest compliment”

    LITERATURE: Philip Roth because he ranks high on the betting odds sites as 3rd favourite & his Portnoy’s Complaint made me laugh once which I can’t say for any other writer in the running on the betting sites. I tend not to like works that qualify as “literature”, much preferring low humour with snappy dialogue e.g. Chandler, Wodehouse, Elmore Leonard

  19. Christopher Bonds
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Haruki Murakami–literature

    Celso Grebogi, Edward Ott, & James A. Yorke–Physics. (I doubt they will win, but others have already guessed my first choice)

    • Ralph
      Posted October 3, 2016 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      You may have a chance – gravitational waves would be almost a certainty, but apparently there’s a slight question over the timing. The official deadline for submissions is Feb 1st, and the official publication wasn’t until Feb 11th. It’s not clear if there is any hard rule about what needs to happen by Feb 1st, but if there is, the Committee have a record for being sticklers.

  20. amyt
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Having just come inside after attempting to coil the garden hoses and put away until next year the Nobel Prize in Physics should go to whomever can keep the damn things from kinking and knotting up regardless of how careful one is. That goes for the damn extension cords. And coat hangers!! Must be due to some as yet undiscovered force. Or is it helical winding like DNA or protein folding? Damn Physiology and Medicine already awarded.

  21. Posted October 4, 2016 at 5:12 am | Permalink

    Just saw the results for physics. Nobody seems to have guessed Thouless, Haldane and kosterlitz for something I haven’t yet understood — topological phase transitions in matter.

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