The Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine 2021 is awarded to Scott D Emr, Frank HT Rhodes Class of 1956 Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics and Director of the Weill Institute for Cell and Molecular Biology, Cornell University, USA for the landmark discovery of the ESCRT (Endosomal Sorting Complex Required for Transport) pathway, which is essential in diverse processes involving membrane biology, including cell division, cell-surface receptor regulation, viral dissemination, and nerve axon pruning. These processes are central to life, health, and disease.
For life to be possible, cells must put particular bio-components in the proper location and at the proper time. Here is where this year’s Shaw Laureate in Life Science and Medicine, Scott Emr, comes in. Emr made seminal discoveries in the field of intra-cellular vesicle trafficking. Vesicles are small membrane-bound, fluid-filled sacs that transport bio-components to different destinations inside cells. The destinations are called organelles, which are membrane-bound entities responsible for distinct cellular functions. In a landmark series of studies, Emr used elegant genetic strategies that enabled him to identify 40 genes that encode the components of the so-called ESCRT pathway (ESCRT stands for Endosomal Sorting Complex Required for Transport). Emr combined molecular, biochemical, and structural approaches to characterize the 40 ESCRT proteins and to elucidate their individual and combined roles.