Two researchers are being honored with the Nobel Prize for their discoveries of how humans perceive their immediate surroundings through the sense of touch. David Julius received half of the prize and Ardem Patapoutian received the other half.
David Julius is honoured for discovering how to use this knowledge as a tool. He and his laboratory identified a capsaicin-sensitive nerve cell, and they received the messenger RNAs that encode all the proteins in these cells. The team’s results were divided into smaller collections of messenger RNAs, which were then injected into capsaicin-insensitive cells. Thus, the team was able to identify which collections transformed cells into capsaicin-sensitive cells. By dividing these groups into smaller and smaller subgroups, the team eventually succeeded in eliminating a single gene called TRPV1.
Over time, the researchers found that different members of the TRPV family detected heat and a variety of harmful chemicals, and these proteins also help detect warm-but-not-painful degrees of heat.
Ardem Patapoutian and his laboratory colleagues were able to learn how these cells make their perception. Patapoutian first identified a touch-sensitive cell line through a very thorough process: he attached cells to devices that could detect their nerve impulses and then began to prick the cells. Most cells did not react because they were sensitive to another factor. Finally, Patapoutian discovered a cell type that fired nerve impulses when poked.
The researchers compiled a comprehensive list of genes active in the touch-sensitive cells and compared this list with genes produced from touch-insensitive cells, resulting in a list of 72 genes, each of which could be the touch sensor. Subsequently, the team then inactivated these genes one by one in the touch-sensitive cell line until they found the one that, when inactivated, eliminated the ability to recognize touch.
For more information, you may view the original story from Arstechnica.