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2002: Sir John Sulston, Dr Sydney Brenner and Professor Robert Horvitz

Sulston, Brenner and Horvitz (MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology) won the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work into how genes regulate organ development and how cells are programmed to die, which is critical for the understanding of diseases. By studying a type of worm, they identified key genes in its development. The worm has a short lifetime and is transparent, so it was possible to follow cell division directly under the microscope. The researchers induced gene mutations and linked them to specific effects on organ development. What’s more, corresponding genes were found in humans.

Sulston, Brenner and Horvitz also studied programmed cell death, which is important in the understanding of how viruses and bacteria invade cells, and in the field of cancer research.