Having worked in a proteomics lab for my PhD dissertation, I had some familiarity with the tools and strategies used to study biology on a systems level. One of the concepts I was always interested in was the ability to just follow a protein's journey throughout the cell, from the time it is translated by the ribosome to its final destination either within an organelle or when it is secreted into the extracellular space. At the time I was finishing up, I wasn't sure that the technology was yet advanced enough to make that a reality, particularly if done within a single cell. But within the past few years, a new era of spatial proteomics has emerged to allow us to observe cell biology in a whole new light.
Just a few short weeks after the highly irreverent yet still important Ig Nobel Ceremony, the science community recognized the cream of its crop with the 2023 Nobel Prizes in the first full week of October. The dates for the official announcements are aligned with their usual order throughout the years, always announcing Physiology and Medicine first, then Physics, then Chemistry. The Nobel Committee will transition toward the Literature and Peace prizes to round out the week before Economics is announced on the following Monday. As usual, these prizes recognize a lifetime of work that has given the greatest benefit to humanity. Click the links to check out some of our picks for greatest Nobel science achievements as well a look at last year's Nobel winners, but here we go for this year's running tally of scientific legend.
I always look forward to this time of year, even more so sometimes than the actual Nobel Prizes, because I want to see what new insights can be derived from the weird science that, as they say, first makes you laugh, then think. That's right, now we are at the 33rd First Annual Ig Nobel Prizes! Just like last year and the few years before, the Ig Nobel ceremony was conducted virtually while the pandemic is still not quelled to an extent that allowed the organizers (men and women of science, see?) to be comfortable enough to have hundreds of people packed into a raucous arena, so the paper airplane tosses and everything else was pre-taped and released online. This did not take away from the absurdity and the few laugh-out-loud moments that I (and probably hundreds of thousands of science enthusiasts tuning in from around the globe) had during the 90-minute event. I do wonder if some of these might supplant my personal top ten, but maybe not just yet. Now let's see what happened!
I was recording a new BioChat (you should subscribe) recently with a professor at Harvard. We discussed gene therapy in passing for the disease he was studying, and one of the things that he brought up was the need to ensure that whatever therapy is designed has to be safe and effective. This of course is the promise and also the challenge of CRISPR-based research, in which the model is known but the targeting efficiency isn't where it needs to be in order to be of practical use in therapeutics. This is a big reason why the biomedical research world was abuzz with the recent announcement (and preprint) of a major discovery by scientists at the Broad Institute, where they characterized the mechanisms and the potential utility of a system similar to CRISPR in eukaryotes.
As a lifelong Star Trek fan, it has been exciting to see a lot of the science fiction gradually become science fact, even from the classic episodes with Captain Kirk and Mister Spock. From automatic doors to cellular phones, and even the computing innovations we take for granted such as the Google search engine, touch screen iPads, and the Alexa voice-activated assistant, science fiction like Star Trek has fed our imaginations to turn concepts into reality, such as this happy goofball (albeit a very resourceful goofball) making Doctor Octopus tentacles. I will continue sprinkling in Star Trek references because many of the neuroscience-based innovations in this post seem inspired by mere words on a script page that turned into an "aha" moment on screen, but as paraphrased from Arthur C. Clarke's laws, nothing is truly impossible with the right kind of science.
When living in Chicago, we would often get off on the 31st Street exit on Lakeshore Drive, and at the time there was a sign pointing out some parking areas for McCormick Place. I recall specifically that two of those were labeled "E2" and "E3" and being the gigantic nerd that I am, thought immediately of ubiquitin. Since it is found in every type of cell in all eukaryotic cells, the protein is appropriately named. Check out the cool ribbon model I made of ubiquitin for my students once upon a time, and then let's take a look at ubiquitin's functions in living organisms and how it contributes to health and disease.