Gaze into the crystal ball - Nobel Prize Predictions

This is the third year that I update this list of potential winners. A warning, the list is highly biased towards basic biomedical research. In addition, some of the prizes may be more appropriate for the Chemistry prize.

We'll start with my favorite, Membrane Traffic. This finding is one of the most basic discoveries in cell biology. The two obvious winners would be James Rothman and Randy Schekman.

Last year there was a rumor that intracellular signalling may win. Tony Hunter could get it for phospho-tyrosine, Tony Pawson for protein signalling domains, and Allan Hall for small G-protein switches. Maybe Lew Cantley for modifiable lipid signals.

Structure of the first virus. Steven Harrison and Michael Rossman.

Structure and function of the ribosome. Here the list is long. Some have joked that this prize will only be awarded when some of the candidates have died. Peter Moore, Tom Steitz, Venki Ramakrishnan, Harry Noeller and Ada Yonath. What they could do is give the medicine prize to some and the chemistry prize to others.

Sadly they can no longer give an award for Angiogenesis as Judith Judah Folkman passed away earlier this year. This is really too bad. Dr Folkman labored against conventional wisdom and really opened up a new field of science.

Telomeres. Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider and Jack Szostak. Very important stuff that touches on both cancer and aging. They won last year's Lasker Award.

Major Histocompatibility Complex, structure, maturation etc. Very hard. Don Wiley would be nominated here but he died. There are many others. In addition you could nominate Peter Cresswell.

The discovery of stemcells. Ernest McCulloch and James Till (they took the Lasker in 2006). How come this hasn't been recognized yet???

Transport Motors. Ron Vale for kinesin (they could also throw in Sheetz here too), Ian Gibons for flagellar dynein, and maybe Rich Vallee for cytoplasmic dynein and dynamin ... (there is little chance that this will happen - apparently the major complaint is that motors, i.e. myosin, already got recognized.) On a related note they could give an award for the discovery of AAA ATPases, I'm not sure who would get that but probably Bob Sauer would be on the list. A more appropriate award would be for the proteasome, but that was already the topic for the 2004 Chemistry award. (Who knows, maybe they can use this as an excuse to give it to Fred Goldberg and Alexander Varshavsky )

Chaperones Maybe Hartl, Ellis and Neupert? Maybe Lindquist? I don't know this fild too well, so if you have any more informed opinion, let me know. It would be funny if Neupert got a nobel and Jeff Schatz didn't.

And of course there is p53, one of the most important tumor supressors known. There are about 3 codiscoverers (Arnold Levine, David Lane, and Lloyd Old) so they could get it. There would be a problem with Levine as he had been involved in a small controversy. Bert Vogelstein wasn't one of the p53 discoverers, but he may get it too for demonstrating that it is a tumor suppressor. If it's tumor suppressors they could also give a prize to Robert Weinberg.

Mitosis I would love to see Shinya Inoue get it for the discovery of the mitotic spindle. They could also give it to Mitchison and Kirschner for the discovery of microtubule dynamics. Many others could be listed here.

OK time for some wild guesses ...

Going back to cytoskeletal stuff, how about cell migration? The area is sort of fuzzy. Actin dynamics could go to Yu-Li Wang. The discovery of ARP2/3 would go to Tom Pollard. (They could also give one to Marie-France Carlier and Dominique Pantaloni for the chemistry of cytoskeletal polymers. I would love to see them share the stage with Pollard!) Allan Hall for small G-proteins. Who would get it for formins???

And then here is my personal favorite:


Fluorescent protein imaging technology. Perhaps this would be more of a Chemistry prize. Roger Tsien (Bapta, FLASH, and evolving about a dozen new fluorescent proteins from dsRed in vitro - see image above). This would kind of be neat as Dr Tsien used selection (i.e. evolution) to design reagents. (Take that you IDiots!) But then there is also green fluorescent protein (GFP). This would be a problem. Osamu Shimomura isolated this wonder macromolecule. Douglas Prasher cloned the gene that encodes it but lost his funding before he could do any work on the protein (and then left academic science!) Martin Chalfie heard about GFP (at a talk?) got the DNA from Prasher as his lab was closing. Chalfie published the first paper where GFP was used in some application. Tough to tell who they would give it to.

Two years ago I thought that RNAi was possible but unlikely as it was a relatively new discovery - then it won. So how about micro RNAs. Victor Ambros, Gary Ruvkun and David Baulcombe (they won this year's Lasker too!)

The human genome. Venter, Lander, Collins. It's not really a discovery. I like them, they did a lot of good, but I don't think they should get it.

Cloning? Ian Wilmut would get it, but he had been involved in some controversy. This might be a can of worms the nobels may not want to touch.

I mentioned one Steitz, but how about Joan Steitz? The problem is that they already gave an award to splicing. I'm not sure what would be the topic this time around.

A bold proposal would be to give it to Brown and Goldstein AGAIN. These guys have done so much great work. Their studies on cholesterol metabolism won in 1985 but they could also get it for receptor mediated endocytosis, and other great discoveries. Speaking of cholesterol they could give it to Akira Endo for his discovery of statins.

Transcription profile chips. Again more of a chemistry prize. Pat Brown would have to get it. Maybe Steve Fodor. This has revolutionized biology and may one day revolutionize medicine. One problem is that Affymetrix chips are being replaced by high-throughput deep sequencing technologies. They could lump in related technical advances such as hybridization, southern blot etc.

In vitro generation of Stem Cell (aka iPS Cells) Way too early. But Shinya Yamanaka should get it one day. Click here to read why.

If you wanted a discovery that dramatically changed life, how about anti-HIV drugs? (I'm not clear on the history here, you'll have to tell me who are responsible or if this is feasible). Of course this prize will raise the issue of the pharmas vs. providers of generic drugs ...

OK that's it. If you have any ideas on who may win, leave a comment.


More like this

This is the fourth year that I update this list of potential winners. A warning, the list is highly biased towards basic biomedical research. In addition, some of the prizes may be more appropriate for the Chemistry prize. We'll start with my favorite, Membrane Traffic. This finding is one of the…
The Nobels are coming up. Here is last year's prediction (note that I had listed Mello and Fire).Who will win this year? You tell me. Some guesses for the Medicine & Physiology (or perhaps Chemistry) below the fold. Warning - the predictions presented here are highly biased towards cellular…
Who will win this year? Some guesses for the Medicine & Physiology (or perhaps Chemistry) below the fold. Warning - the guesses presented here are highly biased towards cellular physiology. Membrane Traffic. James Rothman and Randy Schekman. Maybe you could throw in Peter Novak. There's a…
From the Nobel site: 8 October 2008 The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2008 jointly to Osamu Shimomura, Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), Woods Hole, MA, USA and Boston University Medical School, MA, USA, Martin Chalfie, Columbia University…

I work for Liz Blackburn, and whether or not she gets it this year (I hope she does, even though I'll be out of town on Monday and will miss the celebrating!) she is the kind of person you just WANT to get recognized- you won't find a nicer or more down-to-earth PI in Biochemistry. Seriously.

I met your mentor a few years back and I have to agree, she's great. May the FSM grant her good luck in this year's Nobel sweepstakes!

judith folkman or judah folkman?

By Dave Bridges (not verified) on 01 Oct 2008 #permalink

Thanks Alex- I am certain that the FSM will touch whoever His anointed is with His Noodley Appendage and bring them success. We must not question His judgment but remember to worship in His Ways. RAmen.

Judith Folkman... he's not the messiah, etc, etc.

I googled the typo, for a laugh:…

About 12 years ago, powdered shark cartilage entered the market as a natural treatment for cancer. A popular book by William Lane called Sharks Don't Get Cancer : How Shark Cartilage Could Save Your Life, was used to promote his particular brand of shark cartilage. Contrary to the title of Lanes book, sharks can get cancer, but they have a very low incidence of it due to substances contained in their cartilage that inhibit blood vessel development in tumours. Much of the original research surrounding this issue was done by the very reputable Dr. Judith Folkman of the Childrens Hospital of Boston and Harvard University.

Dr. Folkman's lab discovered that shark cartilage contains substances that prevent the development of new blood vessels. She theorized correctly that this prevents the growth of cancerous tumours, which depend on the development of new blood vessels. In the presence of cartilage, cancer tumours stop growing and shrink because their blood supply is cut off.

Inoue, I concur. Add to his accomplishments being the driving force behind live cell microscopy, and that he was the first to understand that the driving force for spindle polymerization is solvent entropy.

Membrane traffic: I'd stir things up and give it to Schekman, Rothman, and Zerial.

Blackburn: yay to that, and no question that she's the sort who deserves it.

The idea of Pollard and Carlier sharing the stage is almost as evil as the idea of Schekman and Rothman sharing the stage. Snicker.

The chaperone one is good but any way it's sliced will lead to controversy. Hartl has to be on the list. All others are negotiable.

MHC: They could give it to Pam Bjorkman. Everyone would understand that it was hers AND Don's. That would be awesome.

Falkow, for the molecular cloning and analysis of bacterial virulence factors, and for discovering horizontal transfer of these genes. Just got the Lasker for this.

Bob Roeder still deserves it, for RNAP I/II/III and the GTFs.

Elwood Jensen, Pierre Chambon, and either Ron Evans or Keith Yamomoto, for the (main) mechanism of steroid action.

Howard Berg, for more or less inventing (optical) single molecule biophysics.

I think Yamanaka already deserves it.

But in the end, I think that the prize for the ribosome is really, really, really, really overdue. I might give it to Peter Moore (1/4), Venki Ramakrishnan (1/4), and Harry Noller (1/2). But it would be very very hard to not give it to Steitz. Maybe just to Noller, then, for discovering that peptidyltransferase is a ribozyme.

By George Smiley (not verified) on 01 Oct 2008 #permalink

Oh yeah... innate immunity: pattern recogition receptors. Tough to choose since Charlie Janeway died much too young. But unquestionably deserving of the Nobel. Immensely important. Right up there with anything else on this list.

By George Smiley (not verified) on 01 Oct 2008 #permalink


Takuo Aoyagi, for developing the first practical pulse oximeters. Possibly the most important instrumentation advance in surgery in the last 3 decades, because it for the first time provided anethesiologists with real-time blood gas data. This was the most important contributor to a dramatic improvement in the safety of general anesthesia - at least order of magnitude better - since about 1980, when the device came into widespread use. Also very important in many other critical care applications.

By George Smiley (not verified) on 01 Oct 2008 #permalink

The Brown/Goldstein Nobel was partially for receptor mediated endocytosis. At least that featured heavily in their Nobel lectures. I agree, awesome scientists.
Tsien's other significant contribution is ester forms of calcium-sensitive dyes. Speaking of calcium signalling... It is probably too late for this, but what about Mike Berridge & Robin Irvine for discovery of IP3 as an intracellular messenger? But maybe Schulz and Mikoshiba would also need to be recognised...
I'm backing the ribosome structure (yet again) this year and I'd like to see Venki Ramakrishnan take a significant chunk.

If you are going to consider David Baulcombe:

(see - Two years ago I thought that RNAi was possible but unlikely as it was a relatively new discovery - then it won. So how about micro RNAs. Victor Ambros, Gary Ruvkun and David Baulcombe (they won this year's Lasker too!))

, then you also need to look at the work of Vicki Vance
at USC (

Don Wiley was nominated, while alive, but was passed over for the prize. I heard he lobbied really hard to get it - I didn't know one could lobby to receive a Nobel, but apparently you can.

Great list!

I like a lot of these ideas--I'm also wondering why people don't put Ada Yonath and Harry Noller together, of course their work isn't on exactly the same topics but it's close enough for the nobel folks. Cytoskeleton seems the most overdue, though it seems like one of the hardest to pin down to 3 people or less--I really like Kirschner getting it (Harvard's been shut out for a long time). I'm also worried that they've decided Rothman and Schekman to be too similar to Palade's prize.
And can Botstein get a word in with the human genetics folks?

By ronathan richardson (not verified) on 05 Oct 2008 #permalink

Seems like the list will remain intact for next year...

By Georgi Marinov (not verified) on 05 Oct 2008 #permalink

Seems like the list will remain intact for next year...

Yes. Although my last guess wasn't too far off.

"Seems like the list will remain intact for next year"

There are still the Chem prizes to be awarded with many possible winners in this list.

By Acme Scientist (not verified) on 06 Oct 2008 #permalink

"There are still the Chem prizes to be awarded with many possible winners in this list."

True. The structure of the ribosome is a strong candidate

By Georgi Marinov (not verified) on 06 Oct 2008 #permalink

Cell motility and the field of actin dynamics was initiated by L. Carlsson and U. Lindberg with the description of the protein profilin. The start of that area is not fuzzy at all!

By ZenMaster (not verified) on 08 Oct 2008 #permalink

Nobel for DNA chip, are you out of your mind? This is a big science flaw yet to be sorted out by someone one day. It has sucked up millions, or perhaps billions, yet it has not yielded anything significant.