Yoshinori Ohsumi was on Monday declared as the recipient of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy.
Yoshinori Ohsumi is a Japanese cell biologist specialising in autophagy, is a professor in Tokyo Institute of technology’s Frontier Research Centre. He received the Kyoto Prize for Basic Science in 2012.
Ohsumi was born February 9, 1945 in Fukuoka, Japan. He received a B.Sci. in 1967 and a D.Sci. in 1974, both from Tokyo University; from 1974-77 he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Rockefeller University in New York City.
What is Autophagy and what is Yoshinori Ohsumi’s contribution to it ?
The word autophagy originates from two Greek words meaning “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.
Autophagy is essentially the body’s internal recycling program – scrap cells are hunted down and the useful parts are stripped out to generate energy or create new cells. It is a crucial process to prevent cancerous growths, and, by maintaining a healthy metabolism, helps protect against conditions like diabetes.
Difficulties in studying the phenomenon meant that little was known until, in a series of ground-breaking 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.