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Academy Members Win 2009 Nobel Prize


Press Release

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Seven Academy Fellows were awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences:
  • Elizabeth H. Blackburn (University of California, San Francisco) for medicine
  • Carol W. Greider (Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine) for medicine
  • Jack W. Szostak (Massachusetts General Hospital) for medicine
  • Thomas A. Steitz (Yale University) for chemistry
  • Ada E. Yonath (Weizmann Institute of Science) for chemistry
  • Elinor Ostrom (Indiana University) for economics
  • Oliver E. Williamson (University of California, Berkeley) for economics

Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider, and Jack Szostak share the prize in medicine for discovering “how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase.” Elizabeth Blackburn and Jack Szostak showed “that a unique DNA sequence in the telomeres protects the chromosomes from degradation. Carol Greider and Elizabeth Blackburn identified telomerase, the enzyme that makes telomere DNA. These discoveries explained how the ends of the chromosomes are protected by the telomeres and that they are built by telomerase. If the telomeres are shortened, cells age. Conversely, if telomerase activity is high, telomere length is maintained, and cellular senescence is delayed.”

Thomas Steitz and Ada Yonath share the prize in chemistry for showing “what the ribosome looks like and how it functions at the atomic level.” DNA changes into “living matter through the work of ribosomes. Based upon the information in DNA, ribosomes make proteins: oxygen-transporting hemoglobin, antibodies of the immune system, hormones such as insulin, the collagen of the skin, or enzymes that break down sugar.” Insight into the ribosome’s function “can be put to a practical and immediate use; many of today's antibiotics cure various diseases by blocking the function of bacterial ribosomes.”

For their analyses of economic governance, Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson share the prize in economics. In studying the commons, Ostrom “challenged the conventional wisdom that common property is poorly managed and should be either regulated by central authorities or privatized. She observes that resource users frequently develop sophisticated mechanisms for decision-making and rule enforcement to handle conflicts of interest, and she characterizes the rules that promote successful outcomes.” In studying the boundaries of the firm, Oliver Williamson explains “that markets and hierarchical organizations, such as firms, represent alternative governance structures which differ in their approaches to resolving conflicts of interest. Competitive markets work relatively well because buyers and sellers can turn to other trading partners in case of dissent. But when market competition is limited, firms are better suited for conflict resolution than markets.”


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