Aaron Ciechanover tells us why Charles Darwin is his hero in chemistry
Aaron Ciechanover won the 2004 Nobel prize in chemistry with Avram Hershko and Irwin Rose for the discovery of ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation
Coming from the biomedical side of chemistry, my hero is Charles Darwin. With a pair of
forceps and a magnifying glass, but with eyes that could see the unseen, a brain that could think the unthinkable, and a heart that gave him courage to fight such fierce enemies as the church, he developed what is probably the most important theory in life sciences - that of natural selection as the driving force in evolution. Darwin could not have foreseen, however, the endless and huge ramifications of his theory that have revolutionised biomedical research, a revolution that still continues and is as stormy and strong as ever, even now, 150 years after his discovery. The characteristics that allow certain organisms to survive in a certain environment are coded by the genetic material - the DNA. Its discovery as the genetic material (by Oswald Avery, Colin McLeod, and Maclyn McCarty) and the discovery of its structure as a double helix which explained how it replicates during cell division, led to the greatest revolution in biology in the 20th century. It was followed by the discovery of the central dogma of information flow, where DNA is transcribed to RNA, which is translated to proteins. This led to the development of methods to sequence DNA (and proteins), and then to manipulate it, which in many ways carries within it a still unexplored potential for the cure of numerous diseases - inherited as well as acquired, and the development of genetically engineered nutrient-rich and stress-tolerant crops to feed the growing population. Darwin is in many ways the father of modern biomedicine, without even knowing it. He discovered a book and generated its framework, on which great discoverers that came after him like James Watson and Francis Crick, but many others, wrote different chapters that tell the story of our development in the 20th century and beyond.
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