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NIGMS Nobelists Fact Sheet

DNA structure.
THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF GENERAL MEDICAL SCIENCES (NIGMS) could be considered a “Nobel Prize Institute” because of its strong track record of funding scientists who receive this high honor. These investigators perform cutting-edge basic research that is the foundation for understanding normal life processes and disease. Nobel Prizes and other awards recognize the breadth and significance of these findings.

To date, NIGMS has funded the Nobel Prize-winning work of 75 scientists. Among their discoveries:

  • Translating the genetic code of DNA and explaining how it functions in the production of protein in the cell.
    Robert W. Holley and H. Gobind Khorana (shared with Marshall W. Nirenberg)
  • Defining the internal organization of cells using electron microscopy and other techniques, which laid the foundation for understanding key cellular pathways and processes.
    George E. Palade and Christian de Duve (shared with Albert Claude)
  • Finding that RNA can act as a catalyst, controlling and directing cellular functions.
    Thomas Cech and Sidney Altman
  • Discovering restriction enzymes, which cut DNA at precise locations and are a cornerstone of recombinant DNA technology.
    Hamilton O. Smith and Daniel Nathans (shared with Werner Arber)
  • Identifying proteins that trigger a cell’s response to outside signals and are involved in normal activities as well as diseases like cancer, cholera and diabetes.
    Alfred G. Gilman (shared with Martin Rodbell)

These and other important breakthroughs in chemistry and biology often lead to more focused research that culminates years later in important medical advances or commercial products such as medicines or biotechnology tools.

Brian K. KobilkaChemistry 2012For studies of G-protein-coupled receptors
Ei-ichi NegishiChemistry 2010For palladium-catalyzed cross couplings in organic synthesis
Venkatraman Ramakrishnan,
Thomas A. Steitz &
Ada E. Yonath
Chemistry 2009For studies of the structure and function of the ribosome
Elizabeth H. Blackburn,
Carol W. Greider &
Jack W. Szostak
Physiology or Medicine 2009For the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase
Osamu Shimomura,
Martin Chalfie &
Roger Y. Tsien
Chemistry 2008For the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein, GFP
Mario R. Capecchi &
Oliver Smithies
Physiology or Medicine 2007For the discovery of principles for introducing specific gene modifications in mice by the use of embryonic stem cells
Roger D. KornbergChemistry 2006For his studies of the molecular basis of eukaryotic transcription
Andrew Z. Fire &
Craig C. Mello
Physiology or Medicine 2006For the discovery of RNA interference—gene silencing by double-stranded RNA
Robert H. Grubbs & Richard R. SchrockChemistry 2005For the development of the metathesis method in organic synthesis [a chemical reaction for making carbon-carbon bonds]

A full list of NIGMS-supported Nobel Prize winners and links to news releases about their work, is available at

Crossword Puzzle: Test Your Nobel Knowledge | Accessible Version


Roderick MacKinnon, Rockefeller University

Roderick MacKinnon.Protein structure.Cells don't let just anything slip past their external membranes. Instead, protein channels control the passage of most substances, including the ions that allow nerves to signal, muscles to flex and hormones to be secreted in an orderly way. For more than a century, chemists have understood that the flow of ions across membranes could produce electrical signals. But exactly how ion channels work has only been known since 1998, when Roderick MacKinnon showed for the first time what these proteins look like at the atomic level. This was such a fundamental achievement that he won a Nobel Prize in chemistry for it just 5 years later.

"The role of channels in the body is so critical that we would not be alive were it not for the vigilance of these gateways in maintaining healthy cells. NIH-supported research in this area will no doubt continue to deepen understanding of the molecular roots of disease as well as fuel the discovery of new medicines to treat a wide variety of health disorders."
Elias A. Zerhouni, Former Director, National Institutes of Health
October 8, 2003


Nobel Prize Medal. © ® The Nobel Foundation
© ® The Nobel Foundation

The Nobel Prize was created by Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel. The international award has been given yearly since 1901 for achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace. Another category, economics, was added by the Nobel Foundation in 1968. Winners receive their awards on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death. For more facts about the Nobel Prize, visit Link to external Web site


Want to know more about NIGMS and the award-winning researchers it funds? Visit

NIGMS is a part of the National Institutes of Health that supports basic research to increase our understanding of life processes and lay the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention. For more information on the Institute's research and training programs, visit

Content revised October 2012

This page last reviewed on December 18, 2012