PLOS joins the rest of the international scientific community in offering its congratulations to John B. Gurdon of the University of Cambridge in England and Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University in Japan, who were today awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in Medicine.
As noted in Monday’s New York Times, Dr. Gurdon was the first to clone an animal, a frog, and Dr. Yamanaka discovered the proteins with which an adult cell can be converted to an egg-like state.
Both scientists recently published in a PLOS open access journal with papers related to the research for which they were recognized by the Nobel Committee. In November, 2011, John B. Gurdon’s paper in PLOS Biology focused on the likely reason for the death of hybrid species separated by millions of years of evolution. Studying this phenomenon in two evolutionarily distant frog species (Xenopus laevis and Xenopus tropicalis), Gurdon and colleagues found that the genomes accumulate many small changes that account for the differences in their characters. Some of these changes affect how eggs are prepared inside the germline, and/or how embryos develop, such that the egg cytoplasm of a given species can only support development promoted by its own genome or nucleus. As a result, developmental incompatibility arises between the cytoplasm and the nucleus of distant species, though the mechanism is unclear.
In an interview posted on the Nobel website Dr. Gurdon describes the circumstances of his original prize-winning discovery:
I was indeed a graduate student when the major result was obtained. That’s absolutely right, and that was in 1958 and then I took a post-doc job in California, working in a completely unrelated field. So I left my frogs, which I had grown, with my supervisor who had moved to Geneva and he and a technician grew them up. So by 1962, they were adults and one could publish a paper to say that these animals, derived from nuclear transfer, really were absolutely normal. So it took a little time to get through
Since 2009, Shinya Yamanaka has published 9 papers in PLOS ONE focusing on various behaviors and applications of induced pluripotent stem cells; those stem cells that can develop into any mature cell type. His PLOS ONE paper “Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells on Autologous Feeders” reports a method to produce and maintain high quality pluripotent stem cells that could potentially be used to generate clinical-grade cells suitable for therapeutic use, and has been viewed over 16,000 times.
His other PLOS ONE publications investigate other ways to induce, propagate, and manipulate pluripotent stem cells for various applications.
Referring to the forty years that separated his own experiment from John Gurdon’s, Yamanaka said on the Nobel website:
Yes, well I was able to initiate my project because of his experiments fifty years ago. Actually, he published his work in 1962. And that was the year when I was born. So I really feel just great, feel honoured.
Asked about his hopes for stem cell technologies, Yamanaka added:
I really want to help as many patients as possible. As you may know, I started my career as a surgeon 25 years ago. But it turned out that I am not talented as a surgeon. So I decided to change my career, from clinics to laboratories. But I still feel that I am a doctor, I am a physician, so I really want to help patients. So my goal, all my life, is to bring this technology, stem cell technology to the bedside, to patients, to clinics.
PLOS Biology Senior Editor Liza Gross and PLOS ONE Associate Editor Rachel Bernstein contributed to this post.