Tag Archives: Randy Schekman

3rd Frontiers for Young Minds collection of stories by Nobel Laureates

Frontiers publishes peer-reviewed, open access, scientific journals and materials for children through their children’s magazine, “Frontiers for Young Minds” (see my November 18, 2013 post about the magazine’s inception) and The Nobel Collection featuring science stories for children written by Nobel laureates (see my February 22, 2022 post for the first collection and my June 9, 2023 post for the second collection.

Caption: Frontiers for Young Minds Nobel Collection Volume 3 Credit: Frontiers

Here’s news about Frontiers’ third ‘The Nobel Collection’ from a September 20, 2023 Frontiers news release on EurekAlert,

Frontiers for Young Minds, an award-winning, non-profit, open-access scientific journal for kids, has released the third volume of its Nobel Collection today. The new volume features five articles on topics from using a glowing protein found in jellyfish to understand cell function to studying the smallest units of matter. Prior to publication, the distinguished scientists worked with young reviewers aged 8-15 to ensure their articles were interesting and understandable for young readers. 

Launched in 2013, Frontiers for Young Minds inspires the next generation of scientists by making science accessible and engaging for young people. It provides reliable and up-to-date information on various topics in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM). Through a unique review process, kids engage in dialogue with leading researchers worldwide, empowering the young reviewers with a better understanding not only of the science of the article, but of the scientific process and the importance of validating information. While learning about the world around them, young reviewers develop confidence, critical thinking, and communication skills. 

The Nobel Collection is a special series of articles by Nobel Laureates. This third volume of the collection is an exciting new, educational installment for children and adults alike. The first and second volumes of the collection consist of 10 articles each, covering topics from discovering life on other planets to superfluids that defy gravity.  

In this latest release, the scientists share their insights on the following topics: 

  • The Quirky Lives of Quarks: A Close Look into Matter, written by David Gross, awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2004.  
    Atoms are small units of matter that create everything we see. Inside atoms there are subatomic particles such as protons and neutrons, which compose the nucleus of the atom. Protons and neutrons are themselves composed of even smaller units called quarks. David Gross discovered how these quarks interact, explaining why the attraction force between them gets weaker as they get closer together and stronger as they move further apart. 
  • Molecular Flashlights that Light Up Science, written by Martin Chalfie, awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2008.  
    Green fluorescent protein (GPF) is a tiny glowing molecule that was originally found in glowing jellyfish. Martin Chalfie developed a way to use GFP as a marker that scientists can use to learn what is going on inside cells and organisms. Since his breakthrough, GFP was used in many different studies, helping scientists understand how cells work, how certain viruses cause diseases, and how proteins fold. 
  • The Ribosome – The Factory for Protein Production According to the Genetic Code, written by Ada Yonath, awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2009.  
    Proteins are small biological machines that work in our bodies as well as in the bodies of all animals, plants, viruses, and bacteria. They are produced by a protein production ‘factory’ in cells called the ribosome. Ada Yonath developed a method for studying the structure and function of ribosomes. This method could be used to study how antibiotics work and improve them.  
  • The Secrets of Secretion: Protein Transport in Cells, written by Randy Schekman, awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2013.  
    Cells release substances to the blood and to other cells via a process called secretion. For a substance to be secreted, it needs to travel between different stations within the cell and then cross the outer envelope of the cell called a membrane. This travel of a substance within and outside a cell is performed by small carriers called vesicles, which are like little cars that take a passenger substance to its destination. Randy Schekman identified different stations that this ‘car’ goes through within the cell, and significantly contributed to understanding the whole pathway of this fundamental process of secretion. 
  • Seeing Beyond the Limits with Super-Resolution Microscopy, written by Eric Betzig, awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2014.  
    Scientists often want to look at very small objects in order to study them. For many years it was believed that we cannot look with visible light on objects that are smaller than a fundamental property of light called its wavelength (the distance between two peaks in the light wave). Eric Betzig was able to break that limit using a method based on glowing molecules that are attached to the object scientists want to study. This paved the way for scientists to look at objects they could never see before. 

The third volume will expand with more Nobel Laureate authors later this year, providing young readers the opportunity to learn even more about important discoveries. 

Commenting on the new volume, Frontiers for Young Minds head of program Laura Henderson says: “It’s wonderful to now have three volumes of our Nobel collection and so many Nobelist authors joining us to provide kids with access to their work. We want to ensure all science enthusiasts can read Nobel Prize-winning scientific concepts. With over 1.5 million reads and downloads of the articles in volumes one and two, I can’t wait to see volume three inspire our young readers even more.” 

To find out more, watch this video. [29 secs. runtime]


2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine and nanotechnology

I missed it when the 2013 Nobel Prize for Medicine/Physiology was announced but T.C. writing for The Economist in an Oct. 7, 2013 piece points out that the winning team’s work could be described as nanotechnological (although ‘I’m more comfortable with the phrase ‘processes occurring at the nanoscale’),

NANOTECHNOLOGY is a hot topic in science. Not a day goes by without news of some clever device forged using components measuring billionths of a metre. But as is often the case, Mother Nature got there long before humans did. Living cells are nanotechnological factories of stunning complexity, containing the assembly lines, power stations, conveyor belts and control rooms necessary to keep life going.

This year’s Nobel prize in physiology or medicine has gone to three researchers who explained how one of these nanotechnological systems works. James Rothman, Randy Schekman and Thomas Südhof explained how cellular bodies called vesicles—little bubbles encased in fat—are used to ship hormones, enzymes and various other manufactured goods around a cell, and to export them to the outside world.

The Oct.7, 2013 nobelprize.org press release provides details about the prize-winning work,

The 2013 Nobel Prize honours three scientists who have solved the mystery of how the cell organizes its transport system. Each cell is a factory that produces and exports molecules. For instance, insulin is manufactured and released into the blood and signaling molecules called neurotransmitters are sent from one nerve cell to another. These molecules are transported around the cell in small packages called vesicles. The three Nobel Laureates have discovered the molecular principles that govern how this cargo is delivered to the right place at the right time in the cell.

Randy Schekman discovered a set of genes that were required for vesicle traffic. James Rothman  unravelled protein machinery that allows vesicles to fuse with their targets to permit transfer of cargo. Thomas Südhof revealed how signals instruct vesicles to release their cargo with precision.

Through their discoveries, Rothman, Schekman and Südhof have revealed the exquisitely precise control system for the transport and delivery of cellular cargo. Disturbances in this system have deleterious effects and contribute to conditions such as neurological diseases, diabetes, and immunological disorders.
How cargo is transported in the cell

In a large and busy port, systems are required to ensure that the correct cargo is shipped to the correct destination at the right time. The cell, with its different compartments called organelles, faces a similar problem: cells produce molecules such as hormones, neurotransmitters, cytokines and enzymes that have to be delivered to other places inside the cell, or exported out of the cell, at exactly the right moment. Timing and location are everything. Miniature bubble-like vesicles, surrounded by membranes, shuttle the cargo between organelles or fuse with the outer membrane of the cell and release their cargo to the outside. This is of major importance, as it triggers nerve activation in the case of transmitter substances, or controls metabolism in the case of hormones. How do these vesicles know where and when to deliver their cargo?
Traffic congestion reveals genetic controllers

Randy Schekman was fascinated by how the cell organizes its transport system and in the 1970s decided to study its genetic basis by using yeast as a model system. In a genetic screen, he identified yeast cells with defective transport machinery, giving rise to a situation resembling a poorly planned public transport system. Vesicles piled up in certain parts of the cell. He found that the cause of this congestion was genetic and went on to identify the mutated genes. Schekman identified three classes of genes that control different facets of the cell´s transport system, thereby providing new insights into the tightly regulated machinery that mediates vesicle transport in the cell.
Docking with precision

James Rothman was also intrigued by the nature of the cell´s transport system. When studying vesicle transport in mammalian cells in the 1980s and 1990s, Rothman discovered that a protein complex enables vesicles to dock and fuse with their target membranes. In the fusion process, proteins on the vesicles and target membranes bind to each other like the two sides of a zipper. The fact that there are many such proteins and that they bind only in specific combinations ensures that cargo is delivered to a precise location. The same principle operates inside the cell and when a vesicle binds to the cell´s outer membrane to release its contents.

It turned out that some of the genes Schekman had discovered in yeast coded for proteins corresponding to those Rothman identified in mammals, revealing an ancient evolutionary origin of the transport system. Collectively, they mapped critical components of the cell´s transport machinery.
Timing is everything

Thomas Südhof was interested in how nerve cells communicate with one another in the brain. The signalling molecules, neurotransmitters, are released from vesicles that fuse with the outer membrane of nerve cells by using the machinery discovered by Rothman and Schekman. But these vesicles are only allowed to release their contents when the nerve cell signals to its neighbours. How is this release controlled in such a precise manner? Calcium ions were known to be involved in this process and in the 1990s, Südhof searched for calcium sensitive proteins in nerve cells. He identified molecular machinery that responds to an influx of calcium ions and directs neighbour proteins rapidly to bind vesicles to the outer membrane of the nerve cell. The zipper opens up and signal substances are released. Südhof´s discovery explained how temporal precision is achieved and how vesicles´ contents can be released on command.
Vesicle transport gives insight into disease processes

The three Nobel Laureates have discovered a fundamental process in cell physiology. These discoveries have had a major impact on our understanding of how cargo is delivered with timing and precision within and outside the cell.  Vesicle transport and fusion operate, with the same general principles, in organisms as different as yeast and man. The system is critical for a variety of physiological processes in which vesicle fusion must be controlled, ranging from signalling in the brain to release of hormones and immune cytokines. Defective vesicle transport occurs in a variety of diseases including a number of neurological and immunological disorders, as well as in diabetes. Without this wonderfully precise organization, the cell would lapse into chaos.

You can find out more about the recipients here (scroll down).