Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar returned this month from Sweden with a Nobel Prize that officially cites their “mechanistic studies of DNA repair.” Unofficially, the award was a win for every kid who ever disassembled a radio or captured lightning bugs in a jar.
Modrich and Sancar, researchers whose findings will aid in the prevention and treatment of cancer and other diseases, are proof that the most complex scientific discoveries spring from the simplest human query: How does that work?
“This one is for essentially basic science,” Modrich said during a break from preparing his presentation for the Nobel ceremony in Stockholm. He, Sancar and a third winner in the prize for chemistry, Tomas Lindahl of Sweden, each were allotted 30 minutes to summarize their more than 40 years’ work. “The vast majority of discoveries that have clinical impacts come from this kind of research,” Modrich said.
[John Drescher column: When Duke and Carolina both won the big prize]
Those who spend their careers in research labs such as Modrich’s, at Duke University, and Sancar’s, at UNC-Chapel Hill, say the work involves long hours, interminable repetition and long odds that a given experiment will yield the anticipated results – or any useful ...