Nobel and other Prizes

Nobel and other Prizes

The Statistical Genius: C. R. Rao


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CR Rao

Mains level : Not Much


Central idea: Indian-American statistician Calyampudi Radhakrishna Rao has been awarded the 2023 International Prize in Statistics, which is considered the Nobel Prize for statistics.  He is 102 YO.

Who is C. R. Rao?

  • R. Rao, is an Indian-American mathematician and statistician.
  • He is currently professor emeritus at Pennsylvania State University and Research Professor at the University at Buffalo.
  • Rao has been honoured by numerous colloquia, honorary degrees, and festschrifts and was awarded the US National Medal of Science in 2002.
  • The American Statistical Association has described him as “a living legend whose work has influenced not just statistics, but has had far reaching implications for fields as varied as economics, genetics, anthropology, geology, national planning, demography, biometry, and medicine.”
  • The Times of India listed Rao as one of the top 10 Indian scientists of all time.

Rao’s Groundbreaking Paper

  • The research paper, “Information and accuracy attainable in the estimation of statistical parameters,” was published in 1945 in the Bulletin of the Calcutta Mathematical Society.
  • The paper provided a lower limit on the variance of an unbiased estimate for a finite sample, which has since become a cornerstone of mathematical statistics.

Key outcomes of his research

Rao’s 1945 paper has three outcomes-

  1. Cramer-Rao inequality: It provides a lower limit on the variance of an unbiased estimate for a finite sample.
  2. Rao-Blackwell Theorem: It provides a method to improve an estimate to an optimal estimate.
  3. Information geometry: It is a new interdisciplinary area called “information geometry,” which integrated principles from differential geometry into statistics, including the concepts of metric, distance, and measure.

Nobel and other Prizes

Abel Prize for Maths


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Abel Prize

Mains level : Not Much


The Abel Prize for mathematics for 2023 was awarded to Argentine-American Luis Caffarelli, an expert in “partial differential equations” which can explain phenomena ranging from how water flows to population growth.

Abel Prize

  • The Abel Prize is a prize awarded annually by the King of Norway to one or more outstanding mathematicians.
  • It is named after Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel (1802–1829) and directly modeled after the Nobel Prizes.
  • It comes with a monetary award of 7.5 million Norwegian kroner (NOK) (increased from 6 million NOK in 2019).
  • Its establishment was proposed by the Norwegian mathematician Sophus Lie when he learned that Alfred Nobel’s plans for annual prizes would not include a prize in mathematics.
  • The laureates are selected by the Abel Committee, the members of which are appointed by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.

Has any Indian ever won this prestigious prize?

  • Srinivasa Varadhan, an Indian-American citizen won the Abel Prize in the year 2007 for his valuable contribution in “probability theory and in particular for creating a unified theory of large deviation”.


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Nobel and other Prizes

Economics Nobel for work on Role of Banks during Financial Crisis


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nobel Prize

Mains level : Not Much


The Nobel Prize for Economics in 2022 was awarded to Ben S Bernanke, Douglas W Diamond and Philip H Dybvig for research on banks and financial crises.

Do you know?

  • The economics prize is not one of the original five awards created in the 1895 will of industrialist and dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel.
  • It was established by Sweden’s central bank and first awarded in 1969, its full and formal name being the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.

Why was the Nobel given to these three scholars?

  • The research of the three laureates has helped us understand the role of banks in the economy, particularly during financial crises.
  • Their research shows why avoiding a bank collapse is very important for the economy.

Which bank did these scholars study?

  • In 1656, the then-king of Sweden approved the foundation of Sweden’s first bank, the Stockholms Banco, which also became the first bank to issue banknotes in Europe.
  • However, Banco over-issued notes leading to its liquidation in 1667.
  • In 1668, the Swedish Nobles decided to found the Riksens Standers Bank, which was later renamed as Sveriges Riksbank in 1867.
  • In 1968, on its tercentenary, the Sveriges Riksbank decided to award the economics prize in memory of Alfred Nobel.
  • The award itself was the result of an ongoing crisis and conflict between the central bank and the government.
  • The purpose of mentioning this history is to highlight how failures are central to banks.
  • Banks have failed ever since they were created.

What does Ben Bernanke say about banking crises?

  • In the 1930s, the world economy faced a serious economic contraction called the Great Depression.
  • For many years, it was thought the Great Depression was due to a lack of policy stimulus.
  • The economist John Maynard Keynes had argued that monetary policy was ineffective in such crises as interest rates could not go lower than zero percent, and one needed a large fiscal stimulus.
  • Milton Friedman argued that central banks could create money even when interest rates were zero by buying assets, thereby increasing the money supply.

Reasons behind the crisis

  • Bernanke said that while a lack of policy stimulus explains the contraction, it does not explain why the Great Depression continued for such a long time.
  • The economic contraction had led to a large number of bank failures.
  • His argument was that it was this large-scale failure of banks which prolonged the crisis.
  • Banks were not in a position to channel loans towards productive activities, leading to the crisis becoming more severe in the US.

How is bank failure attributed to the financial crisis?

  • Banks have special insights into companies, and when a bank fails, all this information is lost.
  • A failed banking system takes many years to repair and the economy performs very poorly in this period.
  • This explains why the Great Depression became such a prolonged crisis.
  • Bernanke drew his analysis from a deep understanding of economic and monetary history.
  • This prize also shows the importance of history, which is becoming rarer in economic research.

What are Diamond’s and Dybvig’s insights into banking crises?

  • Bernanke explained what happens when banks fail. But Diamond and Dybvig explained why banks fail.
  • In joint research, hence called the Diamond-Dybvig model, they explain that banks fail when depositors rush for their money.
  • In their model, banks are seen as financial intermediaries that intermediate funds from depositors to loan seekers.
  • The deposits are for shorter durations whereas loans are typically given for longer durations (technically called the maturity transformation function of banks).
  • The banks are seen as entities that help savers meet investors, and by channeling loans towards good projects, banks help an economy grow.

How bank failure is related to depositors?

  • Banks are prone to runs by depositors.
  • In their research, they show that once there is a rumor about a bank’s weakness, it spreads like wildfire, causing a bank run, when depositors literally run for their funds to the bank.
  • As banks lend most of the funds towards long-term projects, the loans cannot be recalled easily to repay the depositors.
  • If the rumor is not addressed, it leads to eventual bank failure.

Is it Nobel-worthy?

  • While many know this is basically how banks fail, the prize-winning duo formalized the model.
  • They also presented a solution for bank failures via deposit insurance, which was also introduced before their research.
  • In 1933, the US was the first country to adopt deposit insurance, followed by India in 1962.
  • Both adopted deposit insurance after a significant number of banks failed in these countries.

What does the prize mean for Indian banking?

  • India has been facing sporadic banking crises from 2013 where few banks failed.
  • Bernanke’s research shows how once a crisis starts, it can prolong not just banking problems but also lower economic growth over time.
  • Diamond-Dybvig’s research shows how the weak performance of individual banks like the Punjab and Maharashtra Urban Cooperative Bank and Yes Bank lead to runs.
  • Such banks need to be bailed out by the government.
  • There was also the case of ICICI bank which faced a run in 2008 based on rumours, but the run was stalled by the central bank by issuing a notification assuring the sound health of the bank.

You must know this!

  • Economist and former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) chief Raghuram Rajan seemed to have missed out on the award.
  • He is a leading scholar on banking and has written many research papers with this year’s awardee, Douglass Diamond.
  • The Nobel committee has cited 12 of his research papers, which are a significant contribution to the field of banking.


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Nobel and other Prizes

Nobel for work on Click Chemistry


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Click Chemistry

Mains level : Read the attached story


Scientists Carolyn R. Bertozzi, Morten Meldal and K. Barry Sharpless won the 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry on for discovering reactions that let molecules snap together to create desired compounds and that offer insight into cell biology.

What the scientists worked on?

  • Sharpless came up with the term ‘Click Chemistry’ and worked extensively on it,
  • Meldal came up with a special chemical structure called ‘Triazole’ which has many significant applications, and
  • Bertozzi took the next step of developing click reactions that could work inside living organisms — ‘bioorthogonal’ reactions take place living systems without interfering with native biochemical processes.

What is Click Chemistry?

  • Chemists often try to recreate complex chemical molecules found in nature, and this has applications, among other things, in the field of medicine – how to target and block pathogens in cells.
  • However, this process can be complicated and time-consuming.
  • Instead of trying to wrangle reluctant carbon atoms into reacting with each other, Barry Sharpless encouraged his colleagues to start with smaller molecules that already had a complete carbon frame.
  • If chemists choose simple reactions – where there is a strong intrinsic drive for the molecules to bond together – they avoid many of the side reactions, with a minimal loss of material.

Applications of click chemistry

  • Meldal through his experiments came up with the useful chemical structure called triazoles, whch are stable and are found in pharmaceuticals, dyes and agricultural chemicals.
  • He also found that the reaction he used could bind together numerous different molecules.
  • Bertozzi, using the work of Sharpless and Meldal, came up with an efficient and innovative method to map glycans, which are carbohydrate-based polymers made by all living organisms.


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Nobel and other Prizes

Medicine Nobel for Work on Human Evolution


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nobel Prize, Neanderthal, Hominins, Denisovians

Mains level : Not Much

Swedish scientist Svante Paabo won the Nobel Prize in medicine for his discoveries on human evolution that provided key insights into our immune system and what makes us unique compared with our extinct ancestors.

Svante Paabo: His work, explained

  • Svante Paabo’s seminal discoveries provide the basis for exploring what makes us uniquely human.
  • Hominins refer to the now-extinct species of apes that are believed to be related to modern humans, as well as modern humans themselves.
  • Paabo found that gene transfer had occurred from these now extinct Hominins to Homo sapiens following the migration out of Africa around 70,000 years ago.
  • This ancient flow of genes to present-day humans has physiological relevance today, for example affecting how our immune system reacts to infections.
  • Paabo established an entirely new scientific discipline, called paleogenomics that focuses on studying the DNA and genetic information of extinct hominins through reconstruction.

What is the relation between evolution and biology?

  • Paabo’s discoveries have established a unique resource, which is utilized extensively by the scientific community to better understand human evolution and migration.
  • We now understand that archaic gene sequences from our extinct relatives influence the physiology of present-day humans.

How did Paabo establish the linkage?

  • Paabo extracted DNA from bone specimens from extinct hominins, from Neanderthal remains in the Denisova caves of Germany.
  • The bone contained exceptionally well-preserved DNA, which his team sequenced.
  • It was found that this DNA sequence was unique when compared to all known sequences from Neanderthals and present-day humans.
  • Comparisons with sequences from contemporary humans from different parts of the world showed that gene flow, or mixing of genetic information among a species, had also occurred between Denisova and Homo sapiens – the species of modern-day humans.
  • This relationship was first seen in populations in Melanesia (near Australia) and other parts of South East Asia, where individuals carry up to 6% Denisova DNA.
  • The Denisovan version of the gene EPAS1 confers an advantage for survival at high altitudes and is common among present-day Tibetans.

What are the challenges in carrying out such research?

  • There are extreme technical challenges because with time DNA becomes chemically modified and degrades into short fragments.
  • The main issue is that only trace amounts of DNA are left after thousands of years, and exposure to the natural environment leads to contamination with DNA.

Back2Basics: Neanderthal Man


  • Neanderthals were humans like us, but they were a distinct species called Homo Neanderthalensis.
  • Together with an Asian people known as Denisovans, Neanderthals are our closest ancient human relatives. Scientific evidence suggests our two species shared a common ancestor.
  • Current evidence from both fossils and DNA suggests that Neanderthal and modern human lineages separated at least 500,000 years ago. Some genetic calibrations place their divergence at about 650,000 years ago.
  • The best-known Neanderthals lived between about 130,000 and 40,000 years ago, after which all physical evidence of them vanishes.
  • They evolved in Europe and Asia while modern humans – our species, Homo sapiens – were evolving in Africa.


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Nobel and other Prizes

Private: Who was Ramon Magsaysay of Philippines?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Ramon Magsaysay

Mains level : Not Much

A leftist leader and former Kerala health minister has declined to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award as the late President of the Philippines was known for his alleged brutality against the Communists.

What is the news?

  • Lunched in 1958, the Ramon Magsaysay Award, widely considered to be Asia’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize, recognises outstanding leadership and communitarian contributions in Asia.
  • This year’s annual list of awardees was announced last week.
  • Shailaja was considered for the award for her performance as state health minister from 2016 to 2021, a period which saw Kerala fight against the Nipah virus and Covid-19.

Who was Ramon Magsaysay?

  • Born on August 31, 1907 to a father who worked as a blacksmith and a mother who was a teacher, Ramon Del Fierro Magsaysay Senior was the seventh president of the Philippines, from 1953 until his death in an air crash in 1957.
  • Magsaysay started out as an automobile mechanic before being drafted into the Pacific War (1941-1945), during World War II.
  • The Pacific War would see the Japanese occupation of the Philippines — then a colony of the US — for nearly four years.
  • The US formally recognised the Philippines as an independent nation in 1946.

His legacy

  • As a guerrilla leader resisting the Japanese occupation, Magsaysay’s bravery and leadership saw his appointment as a military governor.
  • In 1946, he would be elected under the Liberal Party to the Philippine House of Representatives, where he would serve two terms as a Congressman before being appointed secretary of National Defence in 1950.
  • On December 30, 1953, he would be elected president from the Nationalist Party, the oldest political party in the Philippines.

Communism and Magsaysay

  • Founded in 1902, the Unión Obrera Democrática is considered the first modern trade federation in the Philippines.
  • The Communist Party of the Philippines or the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP) was formed in 1930.
  • The Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon or the People’s Army Against the Japanese, popularly known as the Hukbalahap (Huk), was a prominent guerrilla outfit that fought the Japanese.
  • As the country plunged into post-war chaos after 1946, the fortunes of the Hukbalahaps, too, changed dramatically.

How he rose to his fame?

  • With the expansion of capitalism, the gap between the rich and poor widened and the farmers continued to languish.
  • Huk leaders were viewed with suspicion over their declaration of commitment to communism and the demand for peasant rights.
  • With the US as its close ally, the Philippine government cracked down on the Huks, who formed an alliance with the PKP to take their struggle to a parliamentary platform.
  • The severe crackdown against the Huks continued until Magsaysay became the National Defence Secretary under President Elpidio Quirino.
  • Magsaysay drew upon his own experience of guerrilla warfare to initiate a two-pronged system of reforms and military campaigns.
  • It was under his administrative and military policies that the Huk threat was considered to be neutralised.

The Ramon Magsaysay Award

  • In 1957, the Ramon Magsaysay award was set up by trustees of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Philippine government to carry forward Magsaysay’s legacy of service to the people, good governance, and pragmatic idealism.
  • In the six decades since 1958 — the first year the Award was given out — over 300 organisations and individuals have been recognised for their developmental endeavours crucial to Asia, and, consequently, to the world.
  • The award is given out every year on August 31, on Magsaysay’s birth anniversary.

Indian winners on the list

  • Prominent Indians who have won the award include Vinoba Bhave in 1958, Mother Teresa in 1962, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay in 1966, Satyajit Ray in 1967, Mahasweta Devi in 1997.
  • In recent years, Arvind Kejriwal (2006), Anshu Gupta of Goonj (2015), human rights activist Bezwada Wilson (2016), and journalist Ravish Kumar (2019) have won the award.


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Nobel and other Prizes

What is Fields Medal, the ‘Mathematics Nobel’?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Fields Medal

Mains level : NA

Ukrainian mathematician Maryna Viazovska was named as one of four recipients of the prestigious Fields Medal, which is often described as the Nobel Prize in mathematics.

What is Fields Medal?

  • The Fields Medal is awarded by the International Mathematical Union (IMU), an international non-governmental and non-profit scientific organisation.
  • It is awarded every four years to one or more mathematicians under the age of 40 in recognition of “outstanding mathematical achievement for existing work and for the promise of future achievement”.
  • The winners are announced at the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM), which was supposed to be held in Russia this year, but was moved to Helsinki.

Belongings of the award

  • The honour carries a physical medal of 14K gold, 63.5 mm in diameter and weighing 169 g, and with a unit price of approximately 5,500 Canadian dollars.
  • There is also a cash award of CAD 15,000.
  • The obverse of the medal is embossed with the head of Archimedes facing right, and some Latin quotes.

History of the Medal

  • According to the IMU website, the 1924 ICM in Toronto adopted a resolution that at each conference, two gold medals would be awarded to recognise outstanding mathematical achievement.
  • The Canadian mathematician Prof J C Fields, who was secretary of the 1924 Congress, later donated funds to establish the medals, which were named in his honour.
  • In 1966, it was agreed that, in light of the great expansion of mathematical research, up to four medals could be awarded at each Congress.

Indian-origin winners

  • Among the more than 60 mathematicians who have been awarded the Fields Medal since 1936, there are two of Indian origin.
  • Akshay Venkatesh of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, won in 2018, the last time the honour was announced.
  • Manjul Bhargava of the Department of Mathematics at Princeton University was awarded in 2014.


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Nobel and other Prizes

Booker Prize awarded to first Indian language book


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Man Booker Price

Mains level : NA

Author Geetanjali Shree’s translated Hindi novel, Tomb of Sand, became the first Indian language book to win the International Booker Prize.

Note: Such topics hold very little relevance for CSE prelims. However, last year experience make such topics more uncertain. Still such topics hold relevance for other exams such as CAPF and state PSCs.

What is the Booker Prize?

  • The Booker Prize is one of the best-known literary awards for fiction writing in English, including both novels and collections of short stories.
  • It was first awarded in 1969.
  • Every year a panel of judges decides the best work of the year, with the criteria being that it must be written in English and published in the UK and Ireland.
  • This panel of judges is picked from among eminent cultural historians, writers, professors, and novelists, and others from related fields.
  • For the Booker Prize, the winner receives £50,000.

About the book

  • The 2018 novel titled ‘Ret Samadhi’ was translated by Daisy Rockwell and published as ‘Tomb of Sand’ in 2021.
  • The prize is one of two literary awards given out annually by the Booker Prize Foundation, a charity whose stated aim is to “promote the art and value of literature for the public benefit”.

What about the International Booker Prize?

  • The International Booker Prize began in 2005.
  • A biennial prize initially, it was then awarded for a body of work available in English, including translations, with Alice Munro, Lydia Davis and Philip Roth becoming some of the early winners.
  • In 2015, the rules of the International prize changed to make it an annual affair.
  • The new rules stipulated that it will be awarded annually for a single book, written in another language and translated into English.
  • The £50,000 prize money is divided equally between the author and translator each year.

Why is it called the ‘Booker’?

  • The Booker Prize, from 1969 to 2001, was named simply after the Booker Group Limited – a British food wholesale operator that was its initial sponsor.
  • The Man Group, an investment management firm based in the UK, began to sponsor the prize in 2002 and it thus came to be known as The Man Booker Prize.
  • The Man Group ended their sponsorship in 2019.
  • Crankstart, an American charitable foundation, has been the sponsor after that. The prize name has changed back to the ‘Booker’ since then.

Who have been some prominent winners?

  • Prominent winners of the coveted prize include Margaret Atwood (‘The Testaments’), Yann Martel (‘Life of Pi’), and Julian Barnes (‘The Sense of an Ending’).
  • Many Indian-origin writers have won the Booker in the past, such as Arundhati Roy (‘The God of Small Things’), Salman Rushdie (‘Midnight’s Children’), Kiran Desai (‘The Inheritance of Loss’), and Aravind Adiga (‘The White Tiger’).
  • Shree is the first Indian to win an international prize.


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Nobel and other Prizes

Pulitzer Prize and the Indians who have won it


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Pulitzer Prize

Mains level : NA

A team of four Indian photographers have won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography for their coverage of the Covid-19 crisis in India.

About Pulitzer Prize

  • The Pulitzer is the most coveted award for journalists from across the world.
  • It is announced by America’s Columbia University and bestowed on the recommendation of the Pulitzer Prize Board.

Who was Joseph Pulitzer, after whom the awards are named?

  • Born to a wealthy family of Magyar-Jewish origin in Mako, Hungary, in 1847, Joseph Pulitzer had a stint in the military before he built a reputation of being a “tireless journalist”.
  • In the late 1860s he joined the German-language daily newspaper Westliche Post, and by 25 he had become a publisher.
  • In 1884, he was elected to the US House of Representatives from New York’s ninth district as a Democrat.

When were the Pulitzer awards instituted?

  • The awards were instituted according to Pulitzer’s will, framed in 1904, where he made a provision for the establishment of the Pulitzer Prizes as an incentive to excellence.
  • Pulitzer specified solely four awards in journalism, four in letters and drama, one for education, and five travelling scholarships.
  • After his death in 1911, the first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded in June, 1917.

Indians who have won the Pulitzer

  • A member of the Ghadar Party in America, journalist Gobind Behari Lal, was the first from India to win the Prize in 1937.
  • In 2000, London-born Indian-American writer Jhumpa Lahiri won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for her debut short story collection Interpreter of Maladies.
  • In 2003, Mumbai-born Geeta Anand was part of the team at Wall Street Journal that won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on corporate corruption.
  • In 2016, Indian-American Sanghamitra Kalita, then managing editor of Los Angeles Times, won the Pulitzer.

The list goes on to date ….


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Nobel and other Prizes

Abel Prize awarded to American Mathematician


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Abel Prize

Mains level : Not Much

The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters has awarded the Abel prize for the year 2022 to American Mathematician Dennis Parnell Sullivan, for his contributions to topology in its broadest sense, and in particular its algebraic, geometric and dynamical aspects.

Abel Prize

  • The Abel Prize is a prize awarded annually by the King of Norway to one or more outstanding mathematicians.
  • It is named after Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel (1802–1829) and directly modeled after the Nobel Prizes.
  • It comes with a monetary award of 7.5 million Norwegian kroner (NOK) (increased from 6 million NOK in 2019).
  • Its establishment was proposed by the Norwegian mathematician Sophus Lie when he learned that Alfred Nobel’s plans for annual prizes would not include a prize in mathematics.
  • The laureates are selected by the Abel Committee, the members of which are appointed by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.

Has any Indian won this prestigious prize?

  • R. Srinivasa Varadhan, an Indian-American citizen won the Abel Prize in the year 2007 for his valuable contribution in “probability theory and in particular for creating a unified theory of large deviation”.


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Nobel and other Prizes

Economics Nobel for Natural Experiments


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Natural Experiments, Nobel Prize

Mains level : Not Much

The 2021 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded to three US-based economists.

Do you know?

The Nobel Prize is officially called as Sveriges Riksbank Prize!

Who are the awardees?

  • Nobel Committee awarded half the Prize to David Card for his “empirical contributions to labour economics”
  • Other half to Guido Imbens and Joshua Angrist “for their methodological contributions to the analysis of causal relationships”

What makes this year’s award special?

  • This is the first time the economic prize has been divided in this fashion with one half going to one awardee and other half divided across two awardees.
  • In the past, prize money was divided equally between the awardees even if the prize was for different topics as is the case this time around.
  • It may appear that the Nobel Prize has been given for two different contributions, but there is a common theme: “natural experiments.”

What are Natural Experiments?

  • Economists are often interested in causal questions such as the impact of education on incomes, impact of COVID-19 on poverty and so on.
  • They are also interested is understanding the direction of causality.
  • Economists have used two kinds of experiments to study these causality and direction of causality questions: random experiments and natural experiments.

(I) Random experiments

  • Under randomized experiments, the researchers allocate say medicines to a treatment group and compare the effect of the medicine with the control group which is not given the medicine.
  • In 2019, the Nobel Committee gave awards to three scholars for their contribution to the field of randomized experiments.
  • However, one cannot randomize experiments to study issues such as why certain people and regions are more unequal or have fewer educational opportunities and so on.

(II) Natural experiments

  • In natural experiments, economists study a policy change or a historical event and try to determine the cause and effect relationship to explain these developments.
  • The trio used such natural experiments to make some landmark contributions to economic development.
  • Natural experiments are more difficult for two reasons. The first is to identify what will serve as a natural experiment.
  • Second, in a random experiment, the researcher knows and controls the treatment and control groups which allows them to study the cause and effect of medicine.
  • But in natural experiments, such clear differentiation is not possible because people choose their groups on their own and even move between the two groups.
  • Despite the limitations, the researchers could use the natural setting to answer some big policy questions.

Natural experiments conducted by David Card

  • One question of interest for policymakers is to understand the impact of higher minimum wages on employment.
  • Earlier studies showed that increasing minimum wages leads to lower unemployment.
  • Economists were also not sure of the direction of causation between minimum wages and employment.
  • Say a slowdown in the economy leads to higher unemployment amid lower income groups.
  • This could lead to lower income groups demanding higher minimum wages. In such a case, it is higher unemployment which leads higher minimum wages.

Contribution of Angrist and Imbens

  • Angrist and Imbens showed how natural experiments can be used to identify cause and effect precisely.
  • We have discussed above how natural experiments make it difficult to separate control and treatment groups. This makes it difficult to establish causal relations.
  • In the 1990s, the duo developed a methodology – Local Average Treatment Effect (or LATE) – which uses a two-step process to help grapple with these problems of natural experiments.
  • Say, one is interested in finding the impact of an additional year of schooling on the incomes of people.
  • By using the LATE approach, they showed that effect on income of an additional year of education is around 9%.
  • While it may not be possible to determine individuals in the group, one can estimate the size of the impact.

What is the importance of the award today?

  • Earlier it was difficult to identify natural experiments and even if one identified them, it was difficult to generate data from these experiments.
  • With increased digitalization and dissemination of archival records, it has not just become easier to identify natural experiments but also get data.
  • Economists have been using natural experiments to help us understand the impact of past policies.
  • As the 2020 pandemic struck, economists used the natural experiments approach extensively to analyse how previous pandemics impacted different regions and tried to draw policy lessons.

India context

  • The methodology date back to the early and mid-90s and they have already had a tremendous influence on the research undertaken in several developing countries such as India.
  • For instance, in India, too, it is commonly held that higher minimum wages will be counterproductive for workers.
  • It is noteworthy that last year, in the wake of the Covid-induced lockdowns, several states, including UP, had summarily suspended several labour laws.
  • This included the ones regulating minimum wages, arguing that such a move will boost employment.
  • The main learning is that minimum wages can be increased in India without worrying about reducing employment.


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Nobel and other Prizes

Nobel Prize 2021


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nobel Price, BioCatalysts

Mains level : NA

(1) Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences, 2021

The 2021 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences has been awarded in one half to Canadian-born David Card and the other half jointly to Israeli-American Joshua D Angrist and Dutch-American Guido W Imbens.

  • David Card has been awarded for his empirical contributions to labor economics. Joshua D Angrist and Guido W Imbens won the award “for their methodological contributions to the analysis of causal relationships.”
  • The 2020 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded to Paul R Milgrom and Robert B Wilson “for improvements to auction theory and inventions of new auction formats”.


  • David Card: He has analyzed how minimum wages, immigration and education impact the labor market.
    • One of the significant findings of this research was that“increasing the minimum wage does not necessarily lead to fewer jobs”.
    • It also led to the understanding that“people who were born in a country can benefit from new immigration, while people who immigrated at an earlier time risk being negatively affected”.
    • It also illuminated the role of resources available in school in shaping the future of students in the labor market.
  • Joshua Angrist and Guido Imbens: They were rewarded for their “methodological contributions” to the research tool.
    • Their work demonstrated “how precise conclusions about cause and effect can be drawn from natural experiments”.

 (2) Nobel Prize for Chemistry, 2021

The 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Benjamin List and David MacMillan for the development of asymmetric organocatalysis.

  • Last year, the honour went to Frenchwoman Emmanuelle Charpentier and American Jennifer Doudna, for developing the gene-editing technique known as CRISPR-Cas9 – DNA snipping “scissors”.

About the Development

  • They have developed a new and ingenious tool for molecule building: organocatalysis.
    • Many research areas and industries are dependent on chemists’ ability to construct molecules that can form elastic and durable materials, store energy in batteries or inhibit the progression of diseases. This work requires catalysts.
    • According to researchers, there were just two types of catalysts available: metals and enzymes. Catalysts are any substance that increases the rate of a reaction without itself being consumed.
  • In 2000, they, independent of each other, developed a third type of catalysis. It is called asymmetric organocatalysis and builds upon small organic molecules.
  • Significance:
    • Its uses include research into new pharmaceuticals and it has also helped make chemistry greener.
    • Both these sets of catalysts (metals and enzymes) had limitations.
    • Heavier metals are expensive, difficult to mine, and toxic to humans and the environment.
      • Despite the best processes, traces remained in the end product; this posed problems in situations where compounds of very high purity were required, like in the manufacture of medicines.
      • Also, metals required an environment free of water and oxygen, which was difficult to ensure on an industrial scale.
    • Enzymes on the other hand, work best when water is used as a medium for the chemical reaction. But that is not an environment suitable for all kinds of chemical reactions.


    • Organic compounds are mostly naturally-occurring substances, built around a framework of carbon atoms and usually containing hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur, or phosphorus.
    • Life-supporting chemicals like proteins, which are long chains of amino acids (carbon compounds containing nitrogen and oxygen) are organic.
    • Enzymes are also proteins, and therefore, organic compounds. These are responsible for many essential biochemical reactions.
    • Organocatalysts allow several steps in a production process to be performed in an unbroken sequence, considerably reducing waste in chemical manufacturing.
    • Organocatalysis has developed at an astounding speed since 2000. Benjamin List and David MacMillan remain leaders in the field, and have shown that organic catalysts can be used to drive multitudes of chemical reactions.
      • Using these reactions, researchers can now more efficiently construct anything from new pharmaceuticals to molecules that can capture light in solar cells.

Asymmetric Organocatalysis

    • The process called asymmetric organocatalysis has made it much easier to produce asymmetric molecules – chemicals that exist in two versions, where one is a mirror image of the other.
    • Chemists often just want one of these mirror images – particularly when producing medicines – but it has been difficult to find efficient methods for doing this.
    • Some molecules with mirror versions have different properties. An example is the chemical called carvone, which has one form that smells like spearmint and a counterpart that smells like the herb, dill.
    • Different versions of the same molecule might have different effects when ingested. Then it becomes important to be able to make only the mirror image of a drug that has the desired physiological effect.

(3) Nobel Prize in Physics, 2021

The 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded with one half jointly to Syukuro Manabe, Klaus Hasselmann and the other half to Giorgio Parisi “for groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of complex physical systems.”

  • This is the first time climate scientists (Manabe and Hasselmann) have been awarded the Physics Nobel. Last year, the award was given for the research into black holes.

Manabe and Hasselmann

  • Awarded for work in physical modelling of Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming.
  • Demonstrated how increases in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would increase global temperatures, laying the foundations for current climate models.


  • Awarded for “the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales.”
  • He “built a deep physical and mathematical model” that made it possible to understand complex systems in fields such as mathematics, biology, neuroscience and machine learning.

(4) Nobel Prize for Physiology/Medicine, 2021

Recently, two United States-based scientists, David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian have been awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize for Physiology/Medicine for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch.

  • They have focused their work on the field of somatosensation, that is the ability of specialized organs such as eyes, ears and skin to see, hear and feel.

About the Discoveries

David Julius:

  • He discovered TRPV1, a heat-sensing receptor.
  • His findings on the skin’s sense of temperature was based on how certain cells react to capsaicin, the molecule that makes chili peppers spicy, by simulating a false sensation of heat.

Ardem Patapoutian

  • He discovered two mechanosensitive ion channels known as the Piezo channels.
    • The Piezo1 is named after the Greek word for pressure, ‘píesi’.
  • He is credited for finding the cellular mechanism and the underlying gene that translates a mechanical force on our skin into an electric nerve signal.

Significance of Discoveries

    • The findings have allowed us to understand how heat, cold and mechanical force can initiate the nerve impulses that allow us to perceive and adapt to the world around us.
    • This knowledge is being used to develop treatments for a wide range of disease conditions, including chronic pain.

Back To Basics: About Nobel Prizes

  • The will of the Swedish scientist Alfred Nobel established the five Nobel prizes in 1895.
  • The Nobel Prizes are a set of recognition given to fields of Chemistry, Literature, Peace, Physics, and Physiology or Medicine by The Nobel Foundation.
    • The Nobel Foundation is a private institution established in 1900, has ultimate responsibility for fulfilling the intentions in Alfred Nobel’s will.
  • The prizes in Chemistry, Literature, Peace, Physics, and Physiology or Medicine were first awarded in 1901.
  • In 1968, Sveriges Riksbank established the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.


Nobel and other Prizes

First Nobel for Climate Science


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nobel Price

Mains level : Climate Change Assessment

Three scientists received the Nobel Prize in Physics for work that is essential to understanding how the Earth’s climate is changing, pinpointing the effect of human behaviour on those changes and ultimately predicting the impact of global warming.

Who are the laureates?

  • The winners were Syukuro Manabe, Klaus Hasselmann of Germany, and Giorgio Parisi from Italy.
  • In 2015, at a UK-based climate-focused online publication sought to identify the three most influential climate change research papers ever published.
  • The paper that received the most votes was one by Syukuro Manabe and Richard Wetherald way back in 1967.
  • These reports for the first time, had described the impact of carbon dioxide and water vapour on global warming.

Citation for their Climate Model

  • Manabe is a senior meteorologist and climatologist at Princeton University.
  • In the 1960s, he led ground-breaking research into how increased levels of carbon dioxide lead to higher temperatures on the surface of the Earth.
  • This laid the foundation for the development of current climate models.
  • Hasselmann is a German physicist and oceanographer who greatly advanced public understanding of climate change through the creation of a model that links climate and chaotic weather systems.
  • Parisi has focused on quantum field theory and complex systems.

Why it is significant feat?

  • This is the first-time climate scientists have been awarded the Physics Nobel.
  • The IPCC had won the Peace Nobel in 2007, an acknowledgement of its efforts in creating awareness for the fight against climate change.
  • A Chemistry Nobel was also awarded to Paul Crutzen in 1995, for his work on the ozone layer, is considered the only other time someone from atmospheric sciences has won this honour.
  • The recognition of Manabe and Hasselmann, therefore, is being seen as an acknowledgement of the importance that climate science holds in today’s world.


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Nobel and other Prizes

Physiology Nobel for work on temperature and touch


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nobel Price, Genes controling senses

Mains level : Read the attached story


U.S. scientists David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian have won the Nobel Medicine Prize for discoveries on receptors for temperature and touch.

Who are the Laureates?

  • David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian, working independently in the United States, made a series of discoveries in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
  • They figured out the touch detectors in our body and the mechanism through which they communicate with the nervous system to identify and respond to a particular touch.

What did they discover?

  • They discovered the molecular sensors in the human body that are sensitive to heat, and to mechanical pressure, and make us “feel” hot or cold, or the touch of a sharp object on our skin.
  • n 1997, Dr. Julius and his team published a paper in Nature detailing how capsaicin, or the chemical compound in chili peppers, causes the burning sensation.
  • They created a library of DNA fragments to understand the corresponding genes and finally discovered a new capsaicin receptor and named it TRPV1.
  • This discovery paved the way for the identification of many other temperature-sensing receptors.
  • They identified another new receptor called TRPM8, a receptor that is activated by cold. It is specifically expressed in a subset of pain-and-temperature-sensing neurons.
  • They identified a single gene PIEZO2, which when silenced made the cells insensitive to the poking. They named this new mechanosensitive ion channel Piezo1.

How do they work?

  • The human ability to sense heat or cold and pressure is not very different from the working of the many detectors that we are familiar with.
  • When something hot, or cold, touches the body, the heat receptors enable the passage of some specific chemicals, like calcium ions, through the membrane of nerve cells.
  • It’s like a gate that opens up on a very specific request. The entry of the chemical inside the cell causes a small change in electrical voltage, which is picked up by the nervous system.
  • There is a whole spectrum of receptors that are sensitive to different ranges of temperature.
  • When there is more heat, more channels open up to allow the flow of ions, and the brain is able to perceive higher temperatures.

Therapeutic implications

  • Breakthroughs in physiology have often resulted in an improvement in the ability to fight diseases and disorders. This one is no different.
  • There are receptors that make us feel pain. If these receptors can suppress, or made less effective, the person had felt less pain.
  • Chronic pain is present is a number of illnesses and disorders. Earlier, the experience of pain was a mystery.
  • But as we understand these receptors more and more, it is possible that we gain the ability to regulate them in such a way that the pain is minimized.

[Note: We will compile all Nobel Prizes into a single post once all are awarded.]

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Nobel and other Prizes

2020 Millennium Technology Prize  


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Next-generation DNA sequencing

Mains level : Not Much

The 2020 Millennium Technology Prize has been awarded to Shankar Balasubramanian and David Klenerman, for their development of revolutionary Next-generation DNA sequencing techniques.

About Millennium Technology Prize

  • The Millennium Technology Prize is one of the world’s largest technology prizes.
  • It is awarded once every two years by Technology Academy Finland, an independent fund established by Finnish industry and the Finnish state in partnership.

What is next-generation DNA sequencing?

  • Next-generation sequencing (NGS) is a massively parallel sequencing technology that offers ultra-high throughput, scalability, and speed.
  • The technology is used to determine the order of nucleotides in entire genomes or targeted regions of DNA or RNA.
  • These technologies allow for sequencing of DNA and RNA much more quickly and cheaply than the previously used sequencing.
  • NGS has revolutionized the biological sciences, allowing labs to perform a wide variety of applications and study biological systems at a level never before possible.
  • More than a million base pairs can be sequenced, which translates to hundreds of genes or even the whole genome of an organism.
  • This is made possible by simultaneously sequencing hundreds of pieces of DNA at the same time.

What is sequencing, btw?

  • DNA (or RNA, in some viruses), the genetic material of life forms, is made of four bases (A, T, G and C; with U replacing T in the case of RNA).
  • A chromosome is the duplex of a long linear chain of these – and in the DNA sequence is information – the blueprint of life.
  • Life famously can replicate, and DNA replicates when an enzyme, DNA polymerase, synthesises a complementary strand using an existing DNA strand as the template.
  • The breakthrough idea of Balasubramanian and Klenerman was to sequence DNA (or RNA) using this process of strand synthesis.
  • They cleverly modified their ATGC bases so that each shone with a different colour.
  • When copied, the “coloured” copy of DNA could be deciphered from the colours alone, using miniature optical and electronic devices.

What about the cost of all this sequencing?

  • When the Human Genome Project delivered the first, near-complete sequence of our genome, the cost was estimated to have been 3 billion dollars.
  • As all our chromosomes together have 3 billion base pairs, it becomes an easy calculation – One dollar per sequenced base.
  • By the year 2020, NGS technologies has pushed the price for sequencing to a few thousands of rupees.


What is the Human Genome Project?

Nobel and other Prizes

Sainath awarded 2021 Fukuoka Prize


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Fukuoka Prize

Mains level : Not Much

Noted journalist P. Sainath has been selected as one of the three recipients of the Fukuoka Prize for 2021.

Fukuoka Prize

  • The Fukuoka Prize is given annually to distinguished people to foster and increase awareness of Asian cultures, and to create a broad framework of exchange and mutual learning among the Asian people.
  • The Prize was established in 1990 by the city of Fukuoka in Japan and the Fukuoka City International Foundation.
  • The Grand Prize has earlier been awarded to Muhammad Yunus from Bangladesh, historian Romila Thapar, and sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan. Eleven Indians have received the Fukuoka Prize so far.
  • 115 people from 28 countries and areas have received the Prize in the past 30 years.

Citation for the award

  • In a statement issued Mr. Sainath was described as a “very deserving recipient of the Grand Prize of Fukuoka Prize”.
  • The Secretariat noted his work for creating a new form of knowledge through his writings and commentaries on rural India and for “promoting civil cooperation”.

Nobel and other Prizes

Explained: Auction theory


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Auction Theory, Nobel Prizes

Mains level : Auction theory and its utility

This year, the Nobel Prize for Economics was awarded to Paul R Milgrom and Robert B Wilson for “improvements to auction theory and inventions of new auction formats”.

Do you remember the 2G spectrum scam, Coalgate scam etc. that rocked the nation? Can you relate this auction theory for bidding public assets to private entities?

What is Auction?

  • Essentially, it is about how auctions lead to the discovery of the price of a commodity.
  • Auction theory studies how auctions are designed, what rules govern them, how bidders behave and what outcomes are achieved.
  • When one thinks of auctions, one typically imagines the auction of a bankrupt person’s property to pay off his creditors.
  • Indeed, this is the oldest form of auction. This simple design of such an auction — the highest open bidder getting the property (or the commodity in question) — is intuitively appealing as well.

Evolving definitions of auction

  • Over time, and especially over the last three decades, more and more goods and services have been brought under auction.
  • The nature of these commodities differs sharply. For instance, a bankrupt person’s property is starkly different from the spectrum for radio or telecom use.
  • Similarly, carbon dioxide emission credits are quite different from the spot market for buying electricity, which, in turn, is quite different from choosing which company should get the right to collect the local garbage.
  • In other words, no one auction design fits all types of commodities or seller.

The Auction Theory

Three key variables need to be understood before we move to actual propositions.

(1) Rules of the auction

  • Imagine participating in an auction. Your bidding behaviour is likely to differ if the rules stipulate open bids as against closed/sealed bids.
  • The same applies to single bids versus multiple bids, or whether bids are made one after another or everyone bids at the same time.

(2) Commodity or service

  • The second variable is the commodity or service being put up for auction. In essence, the question is how each bidder values an item.
  • This is not always easy to ascertain. In terms of telecom spectrum, it might be easier to peg the right value for each bidder because most bidders are likely to put the spectrum to the same use.
  • This is called the “common” value of an object.

(3) Uncertainty

  • The third variable is uncertainty.
  • For instance, which bidder has what information about the object, or even the value another bidder associates with the object.

The theory

  • Wilson developed the theory for auctions of objects with a common value — a value which is uncertain beforehand but, in the end, is the same for everyone”.
  • Wilson showed what the “winner’s curse” is in an auction and how it affects bidding.
  • As shown in the illustration, it is possible to overbid — $50 when the real value is closer to $25. In doing so, one wins the auction but loses out in reality.
  • Milgrom “formulated a more general theory of auctions that not only allows common values but also private values that vary from bidder to bidder”.
  • He analysed the bidding strategies in a number of well-known auction formats, demonstrating that a format will give the seller higher expected revenue when bidders learn more about each other’s estimated values.

Significance of Auction theory

  • Throughout history, countries have tried to allocate resources in various ways.
  • Some have tried to do it through political markets, but this has often led to biased outcomes. For Ex: The rationing of essential goods worked in State-controlled economies. People who were close to the bureaucracy and the political class came out ahead of others.
  • Lotteries are another way to allocate resources, but they do not ensure that scarce resources are allocated to people who value it the most.
  • Auctions, for a good reason, have been the most common tool for thousands of years used by societies to allocate scarce resources.
  • When potential buyers compete to purchase goods in an auction, it helps sellers discover those buyers who value the goods the most.
  • Further, selling goods to the highest bidder also helps the seller maximise his or her revenues. So, both buyers and sellers benefit from auctions.
  • Whether it is the auction of spectrum waves or the sale of fruits and vegetables, auctions are at the core of allocation of scarce resources in a market economy.

What are the criticisms levelled against auctions and what are the economists contribution?

1.Issue of Winner’s Curse

  • The most common one is that auctions can lead buyers to overpay for resources whose value is uncertain to them.
  • This criticism, popularly known as the ‘winner’s curse’, is based on a study that showed how buyers who overpaid for U.S. oil leases in the 1970s earned low returns. Dr. Wilson was the first to study this matter.
  • The rational bidders may decide to underpay for resources in order to avoid the ‘winner’s curse’, and Dr. Wilson argued that sellers can get better bids for their goods if they share more information about it with potential buyers

2.Auction formats

  • Economists traditionally working on auction theory believed that all auctions are the same when it comes to the revenues that they managed to bring in for sellers. The auction format, in other words, did not matter.
  • This is known as the ‘revenue equivalence theorem’.
  • But Dr. Milgrom showed that the auction format can actually have a huge impact on the revenues earned by sellers.
  • The most famous case of an auction gone wrong for the seller was the spectrum auction in New Zealand in 1990.
  • In what is called a ‘Vickrey auction’, where the winner of the auction is mandated to pay only the second-best bid, a company that bid NZ$1,00,000 eventually paid just NZ$6 and another that bid NZ$70,00,000 only paid NZ$5,000.
  • In particular, Dr. Milgrom showed how Dutch auctions, in which the auctioneer lowers the price of the product until a buyer bids for it, can help sellers earn more revenues than English auctions.
  • In the case of English auctions, the price rises based on higher bids submitted by competing buyers. But as soon as some of the bidders drop out of the auction as the price rises, the remaining bidders become more cautious about bidding higher prices.


  • The contributions of Dr. Milgrom and Dr. Wilson have helped governments and private companies design their auctions better.
  • This has, in turn, helped in the better allocation of scarce resources and offered more incentives for sellers to produce complex goods.

Nobel and other Prizes

What is World Food Programme?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : World Food Programme

Mains level : Not Much

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the World Food Programme (WFP) for feeding millions of people from Yemen to North Korea, with the coronavirus pandemic seen pushing millions more into hunger.

Tap here to read more about Nobel Prizes here at:

Nobel and other Prizes

World Food Programme

  • The WFP is the food-assistance branch of the United Nations and the world’s largest humanitarian organization focused on hunger and food security.
  • Founded in 1961, it is headquartered in Rome and has offices in 80 countries.
  • In addition to emergency food aid, WFP focuses on relief and rehabilitation, development aid, and special operations, such as making food systems more resilient against climate change and political instability.
  • It is an executive member of the United Nations Development Group, which collectively aims to fulfil the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), and has prioritized achieving SDG 2 for “zero hunger” by 2030.

Nobel and other Prizes

Nobel Prize in Chemistry for CRISPR Technology


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CRISPR, Cas9

Mains level : Gene Editing

French-American duo Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna have been awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize for the chemistry of CRISPR, which allows scientists to ‘cut-paste’ inside a genetic sequence.

Try this PYQ:

Q.What is Cas9 protein that is often mentioned in news?

(a) A molecular scissors used in targeted gene editing

(b) A biosensor used in the accurate detection of pathogens in patients

(c) A gene that makes plants pest-resistant

(d) A herbicidal substance synthesized in genetically modified crops

The CRISPR technology

  • The CRISPR is an acronym for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, developed in the year 2012
  • CRISPR has made gene editing very easy and simple, and at the same time extremely efficient.
  • The technology works in a simple way — it locates the specific area in the genetic sequence which has been diagnosed to be the cause of the problem, cuts it out, and replaces it with a new and correct sequence that no longer causes the problem.
  • The technology replicates a natural defence mechanism in some bacteria that use a similar method to protect itself from virus attacks.

Working of CRISPR

  • An RNA molecule is programmed to locate the particular problematic sequence on the DNA strand.
  • A special protein called Cas9, often described in popular literature as ‘genetic scissor’, is used to break and remove the problematic sequence.
  • A DNA strand, when broken, has a natural tendency to repair itself. But the auto-repair mechanism can lead to the re-growth of a problematic sequence.
  • Scientists intervene during this auto-repair process by supplying the desired sequence of genetic codes, which replaces the original sequence.
  • It is like cutting a portion of a long zipper somewhere in between and replacing that portion with a fresh segment.
  • Because the entire process is programmable, it has a remarkable efficiency and has already brought almost miraculous results.

Uses of CRISPR

  • There are a whole lot of diseases and disorders, including some forms of cancer, that are caused by an undesired genetic mutation.
  • These can all be fixed with this technology. There are vast applications elsewhere as well. Genetic sequences of disease-causing organisms can be altered to make them ineffective.
  • Genes of plants can be edited to make them withstand pests, or improve their tolerance to drought or temperature.

Ethical concerns

  • In November 2018, a Chinese researcher in Shenzen created an international sensation with his claim that he had altered the genes of a human embryo that eventually resulted in the birth of twin baby girls.
  • This was the first documented case of a ‘designer babies’ being produced using the new gene-editing tools like CRISPR.
  • What made matters worse was that the gene-editing was probably done without any regulatory permission or oversight.

Cells’ Toolbox for DNA repair honoured with Nobel Prize in Chemistry

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2015 is awarded to Tomas Lindahl (UK), Paul Modrich (USA) and Aziz Sancar (USA) for having mapped, at a molecular level, how cells repair damaged DNA and safeguard the genetic information.

Their work has provided fundamental knowledge of how a living cell functions and is, for instance, used for the development of new cancer treatments.

What’s the DNA repair toolbox ?

Each day our DNA is damaged by UV radiation, free radicals and other carcinogenic substances, but even without such external attacks, a DNA molecule is inherently unstable.

Thousands of spontaneous changes to a cell’s genome occur on a daily basis. Furthermore, defects can also arise when DNA is copied during cell division, a process that occurs several million times every day in the human body.

The reason our genetic material does not disintegrate into complete chemical chaos is that a host of molecular systems continuously monitor and repair DNA.

The Nobel laureate scientists, who have mapped how several of repair systems function at a detailed molecular level.


Tomas Lindahl – Puts together the pieces of base excision repair

In the early 1970s, scientists believed that DNA was an extremely stable molecule, but Tomas Lindahl demonstrated that DNA decays at a rate that ought to have made the development of life on Earth impossible. This insight led him to discover a molecular machinery, base excision repair, which constantly counteracts the collapse of our DNA.

This was the start of 35 years of successful work, during which Tomas Lindahl has found and examined many of the proteins in the cell’s toolbox for DNA repair.

Bit by bit, Lindahl pieced together a molecular image of how base excision repair functions, a process in which glycosylases, enzymes similar to the one he had found in 1974, are the first step in the DNA repair process.

Base excision repair also occurs in human beings and, in 1996, Tomas Lindahl managed to recreate the human repair process in vitro.

The decisive factor for Tomas Lindahl was the realisation that DNA inevitably undergoes change, even when the molecule is located in the cell’s protective environment. However, it had long been known that DNA can be damaged by environmental assaults such as UV radiation.

The mechanism used by the majority of cells to repair UV damage, nucleotide excision repair, was mapped by Aziz Sancar, born in Savur, Turkey, and professionally active in the USA.

Base Excision repair

Aziz Sancar’s Nucleotide excision repair

Aziz Sancar has mapped nucleotide excision repair, the mechanism that cells use to repair UV damage to DNA. People born with defects in this repair system will develop skin cancer if they are exposed to sunlight. The cell also utilises nucleotide excision repair to correct defects caused by mutagenic substances, among other things.

Aziz Sancar’s ability to generate knowledge about the molecular details of the process changed the entire research field. He published his findings in 1983.

He mapped the next stages of nucleotide excision repair. In parallel with other researchers, including Tomas Lindahl, Sancar investigated nucleotide excision repair in humans.

The molecular machinery that excises UV damage from human DNA is more complex than its bacterial counterpart but, in chemical terms, nucleotide excision repair functions similarly in all organisms.



Paul Modrich – illustrating DNA mismatch repair

Once his father, a biology teacher, said: “You should learn about this DNA stuff.” This was in 1963, the year after James Watson and Francis Crick had been awarded the Nobel Prize for discovering the structure of DNA.

A few years later, that “DNA stuff” really became central to Paul Modrich’s life.

Paul Modrich has demonstrated how the cell corrects errors that occur when DNA is replicated during cell division. This mechanism, mismatch repair, reduces the error frequency during DNA replication by about a thousandfold. Congenital defects in mismatch repair are known, for example, to cause a hereditary variant of colon cancer.

In conclusion, the basic research carried out by the 2015 Nobel Laureates in Chemistry has not only deepened our knowledge of how we function, but could also lead to the development of lifesaving treatments.

In the words of Paul Modrich: “That is why curiosity-based research is so important. You never know where it is going to lead… A little luck helps, too.”


Irish-born William Campbell and Japan’s Satoshi Omura won half of the prize for discovering avermectin, a derivative of which has been used to treat hundreds of millions of people with river blindness and lymphatic filariasis, or elephantiasis.

China’s Tu Youyou was awarded the other half of the prize for discovering artemisinin, a drug that has slashed malaria deaths and has become the mainstay of fighting the mosquito-borne disease. She is China’s first Nobel laureate in medicine.

Lets’s talk about Satoshi Omura’s invention

Satoshi Ōmura

So, how did the journey start for Satoshi Omura?

Satoshi Omura, a Japanese microbiologist and expert in isolating natural products, focused on a group of bacteria, Streptomyces, which lives in the soil and was known to produce a plethora of agents with antibacterial activities (including Streptomycin discovered by Selman Waksman, Nobel Prize 1952).

Equipped with extraordinary skills in developing unique methods for large-scale culturing and characterization of these bacteria, Omura isolated new strains of Streptomyces from soil samples and successfully cultured them in the laboratory.

From many thousand different cultures, he selected about 50 of the most promising, one of these cultures later turned out to be Streptomyces avermitilis, the source of Avermectin, a medicine that has nearly eradicated river blindness and radically reduced the incidence of filariasis, which can cause the disfiguring swelling of the lymph system in the legs and lower body known as elephantiasis.



Puzzle about River Blindness?

Also known as onchocerciasis or Robles’ Disease, is caused by transmission of the parasitic worm Onchocerca volvulus by black flies of the genus Simulium. Vector lives near rivers, thus the name.Inside the host, the worms create larvae that travel to the skin, and infect other flies that bite the victim.

Symptoms include severe itching, eruptions under the skin, and blindness. About 17-25 million are infected; some 0.8 million have some degree of vision loss. Most infections in sub-Saharan Africa.

Then, what about Lymphatic Filariasis or Commonly known as elephantiasis ?

It is tropical disease caused by transmission of parasites classified as nematodes (roundworms) of the family Filariodideato, to humans by mosquitoes.

Adult worms lodge in lymphatic system and disrupt immune system. Causes abnormal enlargement of body parts, pain, severe disability and social stigma.

Over 120 million people are infected, about 40 million disfigured or incapacitated. About 1.23 billion in 58 countries are threatened, 80% of whom live in 10 countries, including India, Bangladesh and Nepal.

Our next Pioneer William C. Campbell

William C. Campbell

An expert in parasite biology working in the USA, acquired Omura’s Streptomyces cultures and explored their efficacy.

Campbell showed that a component from one of the cultures was remarkably efficient against parasites in domestic and farm animals.

The bioactive agent was purified and named Avermectin, which was subsequently chemically modified to a more effective compound called Ivermectin. 

Ivermectin was later tested in humans with parasitic infections and effectively killed parasite larvae (microfilaria) .

Collectively, Omura and Campbell’s contributions led to the discovery of a new class of drugs with extraordinary efficacy against parasitic diseases.




What a breakthrough, China’s first Nobel laureate in medicine, Let’s talk about it?


Youyou Tu

Ms. Youyou Tu, won Nobel in Medicine for a therapy against malaria.

Malaria was traditionally treated by chloroquine or quinine, but with declining success. By the late 1960s, efforts to eradicate Malaria had failed and the disease was on the rise.

At that time, Youyou Tu in China turned to traditional herbal medicine to tackle the challenge of developing novel Malaria therapies.

Tu revisited the ancient literature and discovered clues that guided her in her quest to successfully extract the active component from Artemisia annua. 

Tu was the first to show that this component, later called Artemisinin, was highly effective against the Malaria parasite, both in infected animals and in humans.

Artemisinin represents a new class of antimalarial agents that rapidly kill the Malaria parasites at an early stage of their development, which explains its unprecedented potency in the treatment of severe Malaria.


Herbal medicine


How do you think these inventions will change the world?

The discoveries of Avermectin and Artemisinin have fundamentally changed the treatment of parasitic diseases.

Ivermectin is highly effective against a range of parasites, has limited side effects and is freely available across the globe.

The importance of Ivermectin for improving the health and wellbeing of millions of individuals with River Blindness and Lymphatic Filariasis, primarily in the poorest regions of the world, is immeasurable.

Treatment is so successful that these diseases are on the verge of eradication, which would be a major feat in the medical history of humankind. Malaria infects close to 200 million individuals yearly.

Artemisinin is used in all Malaria-ridden parts of the world. When used in combination therapy, it is estimated to reduce mortality from Malaria by more than 20% overall and by more than 30% in children. For Africa alone, this means that more than 100 000 lives are saved each year.

The discoveries of Avermectin and Artemisinin have revolutionized therapy for patients suffering from devastating parasitic diseases.

Campbell, Ōmura and Tu have transformed the treatment of parasitic diseases. The global impact of their discoveries and the resulting benefit to mankind are immeasurable.

Published with inputs from Arun
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