Professors at UNC, Duke among 3 awarded Nobel Prize in chemistry

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The portraits of the winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2015 (L-R) Sweden's Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich of US and Turkish-American Aziz Sancar are displayed on a screen during a press conference on Oct. 7, 2015 at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm. (JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)

STOCKHOLM — Professors at the University of North Carolina and Duke were among three scientists awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize for chemistry, “for their mechanistic studies of DNA repair,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced Wednesday.

Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar won “for having mapped, at a molecular level, how cells repair damaged DNA and safeguard the genetic information.”

Modrich is an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and professor at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C.

Sancar is a professor at the UNC School of Medicine in Chapel Hill, N.C.

“Their work has provided fundamental knowledge of how a living cell functions and is, for instance, used for the development of new cancer treatments,” the academy said.

Last year, two Americans and a German won the chemistry prize for their work on optical microscopy, which opened up our understanding of molecules by allowing us to see how they work close up.

The winners were Eric Betzig, Stefan W. Hell and William E. Moerner.

Since 1901, the committee has handed out the Nobel Prize in chemistry 107 times. In certain years, mainly during World Wars I and II, no prize in chemistry was awarded.

The youngest recipient was Frederic Joliot, who won in 1935 at the age of 35. The oldest chemistry laureate was John B. Fenn, who was 85 when he received the prize in 2002.

Frederic Sanger was the only scientist to win the chemistry prize twice, for his work related to the structure of proteins and DNA.

There is a fine line between the science of chemistry and the fields of physics and biology.

Famed scientist Marie Curie of France, for example, won Nobel honors for her work in radiophysics in 1903 and again in 1911 for discoveries in radiochemistry.

This week, Nobel prizes have already been awarded in medicine and physics.

The committee also will announce prizes in literature, peace and economics in the coming days.

Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel created the prizes in 1895 to honor work in physics, chemistry, literature and peace. The economics prize, established in 1968 as a memorial to Nobel, was first awarded in 1969.