The Nobel Committee announced today that the Prize in physiology goes to three researchers–U.S. citizens Mario R. Capecchi and Oliver Smithies and Briton Sir Martin J. Evans–who developed a way to "knock-out" specific genes in mice. This gene targeting technique allows researchers to figure out what each gene does in mammalian bodies. As the Nobel citation notes:
Gene targeting is often used to inactivate single genes. Such gene "knockout" experiments have elucidated the roles of numerous genes in embryonic development, adult physiology, aging and disease. To date, more than 10,000 mouse genes (approximately half of the genes in the mammalian genome) have been knocked out. Ongoing international efforts will make "knockout mice" for all genes available within the near future.
With gene targeting it is now possible to produce almost any type of DNA modification in the mouse genome, allowing scientists to establish the roles of individual genes in health and disease. Gene targeting has already produced more than 500 different mouse models of human disorders, including cardiovascular and neuro-degenerative diseases, diabetes and cancer.
Physiology is the first prize to be announced. Next up is the Nobel Prize for physics on Tuesday; chemistry on Wednesday; literature on Thursday and the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday in Oslo. By the way, it is widely rumored that Al Gore is the inside favorite to win the Peace Prize. For more details on the physiology prize, see Reuters report here.