Biochemist Paul Modrich Ph.D. ’73 was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry this Thursday for his research on mapping and explaining the mechanisms of DNA repair at a molecular level.
Modrich received the award jointly with Swedish cancer specialist Tomas Lindhal and Turkish molecular biologist Aziz Sancarl.
The trio’s research made a fundamental contribution to knowledge of how the living cell functions and how it stores and repairs information. These discoveries provide greater insight into the molecular causes of several hereditary diseases, as well as the mechanisms behind cancer development and aging.
Modrich explained that the landscape of his native town in New Mexico sparked his interest in the world of nature and science – an interest deepened by the encouragement of his father, a biology teacher.
As a doctoral student at Stanford, Modrich focused on studying the series of enzymes that affect DNA. His further research established that the process of DNA mismatch repair naturally corrects mismatches during DNA copy by identifying unmethylated strands as defective.
Modrich’s work shifted the base of knowledge surrounding the process of DNA repair from generic observations to a detailed biochemical understanding. In a press release on the Nobel Prize website, Modrich emphasized his method for research.
“This is why curiosity-based research is so important. You never know where it is going to lead,” he said. “A little luck helps, too.”
Contact Chloé Hamilton at chloeh ‘at’ stanford.edu.