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'important and profound discovery'

Nobel Prize awarded to scientists for discovery that 'unlocks one of the secrets of nature'

The 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to two scientists for their "discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch," the Nobel Committee has announced

Scientists David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize on Monday after they conducted research into how humans sense temperature and touch, Stat News reports

"Our ability to sense heat, cold and touch is essential for survival and underpins our interaction with the world around us," the Nobel Committee said. "In our daily lives we take these sensations for granted, but how are nerve impulses initiated so that temperature and pressure can be perceived? This question has been solved by this year's Nobel Prize laureates." 

Julius, the Nobel Committee explained, used a compound found in chili peppers to identify a sensor in the skin's nerve endings that responds to heat, while Patapoutian discovered sensors that respond to mechanical stimuli in the skin and in internal organs. Their "breakthrough" discoveries led to a "rapid increase in our understanding of how our nervous system senses heat, cold, and mechanical stimuli," according to the Monday announcement. 

Thomas Perlmann, the secretary-general of the Nobel Committee, called this a "very important and profound discovery," which "really unlocks one of the secrets of nature." The Nobel Committee noted that the question of how temperature and mechanical stimuli are "converted into electrical impulses in the nervous system" had not been solved prior to Julius' and Patapoutian's work. But Oscar Marin, director of King's College London's MRC Centre for Neurodevelopmental Disorders, told The Associated Press the discovery opens up an "an entire field of pharmacology," explaining, "Knowing how our body senses these changes is fundamental because once we know those molecules, they can be targeted." 

Following this announcement, the Nobel Prize in Physics is the next prize that is set to be awarded on Tuesday.