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You are here News Science How hot peppers helped scientists win the 2021 Nobel prize in medicine

How hot peppers helped scientists win the 2021 Nobel prize in medicine

Nobel Prize winners in Medicine

There’s never such thing as a shoo-in at the Nobel Prizes. The scientists who developed the various Covid-19 vaccines saving lives around the world may have been thought to be the frontrunners for this year’s Nobel in physiology and medicine.

Instead, the prize went to a pair of scientists who discovered something even more fundamental: why we feel the light prick of the vaccine needle and other kinds of touch, and why we feel painful heat and cold.

The Nobel Committee today (Oct. 4) named the US scientists David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian as the joint winners of this years prize. In 1997, Julius, a physiologist at the University of California San Francisco, tweaked cells to be responsive to capsaicin, the active chemical in chili peppers. By watching how these cells reacted to capsaicin, Julius found a sensor in nerves that signaled sensations of “pain” and “heat” when the skin encounters high temperatures.

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