RATON — Paul Modrich, born in Raton in 1946, has been jointly awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work with DNA. Modrich shares the award with a two other DNA researchers, one from Sweden and one from Turkey. Modrich is an investigator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a professor at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina. Modrich said, in an interview with the Nobel Prize committee, that he found out about his achievement when he started getting emails about 6:30 in the morning. He was stunned. He went on to add, “I think the field, for many years, didn’t receive the attention I think that it really deserved.” His wife, Vickers Burdett, was enthusiastic as well. “Wow! I can’t express it any better than that. Awesome!” she told The Associated Press. She called the announcement a “total shock.” Modrich grew up in Raton and graduated from the local high school in 1964. He was in the honor society, Latin club, science club, and was voted most likely to succeed by his class. His father was the biology teacher and athletic coach at the school, and when Modrich was a junior, he gave his son some advice that changed his life: “You should learn about this DNA stuff.” Modrich and the other winners revolutionized DNA research by discovering the ways cells protect DNA. Modrich discovered how cells correct errors in DNA replication, and helped decode the mismatch repair (MMR) system. Cells use MMR to essentially proofread their own genetic
codes and fix errors caused by DNA not replicating properly. In human cells, MMR reduces the number of mutations from 1,000 per cell division to only one. Any mutations that survive are passed to offspring, perpetuating the mistake. This can be beneficial, but is often harmful. The findings may have a significant impact on cancer research, since cancer cells are kept alive by DNA repair mechanisms. Thanks to these discoveries, it may now be possible to destroy the repair mechanisms within cancer cells. The three scientists are sharing the 8 million Swedish Kroner (about $960,000) prize. The award will be handed out on December 10 in Stockholm, Sweden.