April artefact – models, of molecules and laureates

Every month one or several of the objects held at the Nobel Museum’s collections will feature here as Artefact of the month

The 2016 Nobelprize in Physiology or Medicin was unshared awarded the cellbiologist Professor Yoshinori Ohsumi for showing how living cells can break down and recycle their own components. The phenomenon is called autophagy which means “self eating”.

Ohsumi donated two different objects to the Nobelmuseum: one miniature model of himself and some protein molecule models.

The miniature figure of  Ohsumi was a present from colleagues when he received the prestigues Kyoto Prize in 2012. The model shows him by his microscope, a tool he frequently used in his awarded research. He studied different mutants of yeast to reveal the mechanisms behind autophagy and commented himself that the model shows him in his 30’ies: “with black, and more, hair”. At that time he was working at the college of arts and science, Tokyo University.

His second donation is a pair of molecule models of proteins central in the autophagy process. The larger model shows the dimer complex of proteins called Atg5, Atg12 and Atg16. The smaller molecule is called Atg 8. These proteins are some of all the molecules involved in the cell processes that takes care of and recycle for example damaged cell components or pathogens, as bacterias.

Ohsumi's discoveries led to a new paradigm in our understanding of how the cell recycles its content. His discoveries opened the path to understanding the fundamental importance of autophagy in many physiological processes, such as in the adaptation to starvation or response to infection. Mutations in autophagy genes can cause disease, and the autophagic process is involved in several conditions including cancer and neurological disease.

by Kajsa Hammarström, Nobel Museum

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