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Japan's Yoshinori Ohsumi awarded 2016 Nobel Prize in medicine

On Monday morning, Sweden's Karolinska Institute awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine to Yoshinori Ohsumi of Japan for his groundbreaking work on the mechanisms for autophagy, the process in which the body breaks down and recycles cellular components. Along with the honor and Nobel medal, Ohsumi was awarded 8 million Swedish krona ($933,000).

"Ohsumi's discoveries led to a new paradigm in our understanding of how the cell recycles its content," the Karolinska Institute said. "His discoveries opened the path to understanding the fundamental importance of autophagy in many physiological processes, such as in the adaptation to starvation or response to infection. Mutations in autophagy genes can cause disease, and the autophagic process is involved in several conditions including cancer and neurological disease." His use of baker's yeast cells to discover the 15 genes essential for autophagy — Greek for "self-eating" — and its mechanisms led to an explosion in that area of research.

Ohsumi was born in Fukuoka, Japan, in 1945, and earned his PhD from the University of Tokyo in 1974. After a few years at New York's Rockefeller University, Ohsumi returned to Japan and opened up his own lab in 1988, where he conducted his work on autophagy. He is currently a professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, and said when he found out he'd won the Nobel Prize, "I was surprised. I was in my lab."