The 2017 Prize in
Life Science & Medicine
Ian R Gibbons
Ronald D Vale
for their discovery of microtubule-associated motor proteins: engines that power cellular and intracellular movements essential to the growth, division, and survival of human cells.
The Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine 2017 is awarded in equal shares to Ian R Gibbons, Visiting Researcher, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley, USA, and Ronald D Vale, Professor, Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology Department, University of California, San Francisco and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, USA, for their discovery of microtubule-associated motor proteins: engines that power cellular and intracellular movements essential to the growth, division, and survival of human cells.
Animal and plant cells possess an elaborate network of cables and filaments that organize the cytoplasmic traffic of material with the precision of a well-engineered motorway. Some compartments of cells move over short distances on the range of microns whereas others, particularly in nerve cells, may traverse from the cell body to the tip of a nerve terminal, from millimeters to as much as many centimeters away. The first such filaments to be discovered are composed of a protein called actin, the same protein that provides the striatal structure of a muscle cell. Actin filaments slide past one another as the basis of muscle contraction powered by a motor protein called myosin. The action of the myosin motor to slide actin filaments was first described in muscle tissues back in the 1940s and was rediscovered in the 1970s as a basis for contractile events in all other cells that possess a nucleus, the eukaryotes. Eukaryotic cells also have another network based on a protein called tubulin, which assembles into a cylindrical cable called the microtubule. Microtubules represent the conveyor belt along which membrane compartments are moved over long distances in the cell and serve as the basis of the beating motion of cilia which line the surface of cells to promote fluid movement, for example in the blood vessels and intestines, and also the motion of flagella that propel single-cell eukaryotes in their fluid environments. Microtubules also organize the regular segregation and inheritance of chromosomes that duplicate, divide and then partition into daughter cells during cell division.
An Essay on the Prize
Animals and plants possess an elaborate network of intracellular filaments that organize the transport of the cell’s building blocks with the precision of a well-engineered motorway. Some cargoes being transported within cells move over short distances (a millionth of a meter) whereas other cargoes, particularly those in nerve cells, must traverse distances as large as a meter from the cell body to the tip of a nerve terminal. All of this transport is produced by molecular motors, proteins that themselves are less than one ten millionth of a meter in size.
The first such molecular motor system was discovered in muscle. The filaments are composed of a protein called actin. During muscle contraction, actin filaments slide past one another, powered by a motor protein called myosin. This action of myosin was first described in muscle tissues in the 1950s and was discovered in the 1970s to power contractile events in non-muscle cells as well.
Ian R Gibbons (1931 - 2018)
Ian R Gibbons was born in 1931 in Hastings, Sussex, UK and is currently Visiting Researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, USA. He obtained his BA degree in Physics in 1954 and his PhD in 1957 from the University of Cambridge, UK. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, USA (1957–1958). He then worked at Harvard University, USA (1958–1967), where he was successively Research Fellow, Lecturer and Assistant Professor in the Biology Department. He was an Associate Professor (1967–1969) and Professor of Biophysics (1969–1997) at the University of Hawaii, USA. He retired from the University of Hawaii in 1997 and moved to the University of California, Berkeley, where he has been working ever since as a Research Scientist (1997–2009) and then a Visiting Researcher (2009–). He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.
23 May 2017 Hong Kong
Professor Gibbons passed away in the United States on 30 January 2018.
Ronald D Vale
Ronald D Vale was born in 1959 in Hollywood, California, USA and is currently Professor of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), USA. He obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Biology and Chemistry from the University of California, Santa Barbara, USA in 1980 and received his PhD in Neuroscience from Stanford University, USA in 1985. He was a Staff Fellow at the Laboratory of Neurobiology, National Institutes of Health, and at the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole (1985–1986). He then joined UCSF, where he was successively Assistant Professor (1986–1992), Associate Professor (1992–1994) and Full Professor (1994–). In 1999, he was appointed an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He served as the Director of the Cell Biology Program (2000–2003) and Chair of the Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology (2004–2010) at UCSF. He is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
23 May 2019 Hong Kong
"Molecular Motors - the Engines of Life" by Professor Ian R Gibbons and Professor Ronald D Vale