The Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine 2023 is awarded in equal shares to Patrick Cramer, Director, Department of Molecular Biology, Max Planck Institute for Multidisciplinary Sciences and President-Elect of the Max Planck Society, Germany and Eva Nogales, Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Structural Biology, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley, USA for pioneering structural biology that enabled visualisation, at the level of individual atoms, of the protein machines responsible for gene transcription, one of life’s fundamental processes. They revealed the mechanism underlying each step in gene transcription, how proper gene transcription promotes health, and how dysregulation causes disease.
The Central Dogma, a theory put forward in 1958 by Francis Crick, is the fundamental concept of life. Three crucial molecules are involved: DNA houses an organism’s genetic blueprint. The DNA genome contains the information required to produce all of an organism’s proteins. Proteins endow cells, tissues, and organisms with their forms and capabilities. Messenger RNA (mRNA) is the intermediate molecule that links DNA to proteins. Particular DNA instructions are converted into individual mRNA molecules to produce specific proteins by a process called gene transcription. Crucially, transcription of specific genes must occur at the correct times and in the correct cellular locations so that the subsets of proteins required for function are only produced when and where they are needed. The gene transcription process has four steps: 1. Initiation; 2. Pausing/ Promoter Clearance; 3. Elongation; 4. Termination. This year’s Shaw Prize recipients, Eva Nogales and Patrick Cramer, pioneered structural biology approaches to enable visualisation, at the level of the individual atoms, of the protein machines responsible for gene transcription. They revealed the molecular mechanism underlying each step in gene transcription, and the importance of proper gene transcription to promote health and prevent disease.