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MIT alum awarded Nobel Prize for work on DNA repair

Paul L. Modrich ’86, who earned his bachelor’s in biology from MIT, was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in chemistry on Wednesday for his work on DNA mismatch repair.

Modrich is now a biochemistry professor at the Duke University School of Medicine and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He earned his PhD from Stanford. As an MIT undergraduate, he was a resident of East Campus.

Modrich shares the 8 million Swedish kronor prize (about $960,000) equally with Tomas Lindahl of Sweden and Aziz Sancar of the U.S. and Turkey.

Over the last four decades, the three scientists have detailed, at a molecular level, mechanisms by which cells repair damaged DNA.

One way errors can be introduced in DNA is during replication, when a nucleotide on the new DNA strand does not match its counterpart on the template DNA strand. Modrich showed which specific enzymes repair such mismatches in prokaryotes and eukaryotes.

“The Nobel Laureates in Chemistry 2015 have provided fundamental insights into how cells function, knowledge that can be used, for instance, in the development of new cancer treatments,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.

Modrich is the 28th MIT alumnus (and 85th current or former MIT student, staff, or faculty member) to win a Nobel Prize, according to MIT.

—Leon Lin