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NIGMS Nobelists Fact Sheet

DNA structureTHE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF GENERAL MEDICAL SCIENCES (NIGMS) could be considered a "Nobel Prize Institute" because of its strong track record of funding scientists who receive this high honor. These investigators perform cutting-edge basic research that is the foundation for understanding normal life processes and disease. Nobel Prizes and other awards recognize the breadth and significance of these findings.

Since its creation in 1962, NIGMS has supported the work of 83 Nobel laureates—40 in physiology or medicine and 43 in chemistry. Among their discoveries are:

  • Translating the genetic code of DNA and explaining how it functions in the production of protein in the cell.
    Robert W. Holley and H. Gobind Khorana (shared with Marshall W. Nirenberg)
  • Defining the internal organization of cells using electron microscopy and other techniques, which laid the foundation for understanding key cellular pathways and processes.
    George E. Palade and Christian de Duve (shared with Albert Claude)
  • Finding that RNA can act as a catalyst, controlling and directing cellular functions.
    Thomas Cech and Sidney Altman
  • Discovering restriction enzymes, which cut DNA at precise locations and are a cornerstone of recombinant DNA technology.
    Hamilton O. Smith and Daniel Nathans (shared with Werner Arber)
  • Identifying proteins that trigger a cell's response to outside signals and are involved in normal activities as well as diseases like cancer, cholera and diabetes.
    Alfred G. Gilman (shared with Martin Rodbell)

These and other important breakthroughs in chemistry and biology often lead to more focused research that culminates years later in important medical advances or commercial products such as medicines or biotechnology tools.

Recent Nobel Laureates Supported by NIGMS

Paul Modrich & Aziz Sancar Chemistry 2015 For mechanistic studies of DNA repair
William E. Moerner Chemistry 2014 For the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy
Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt & Arieh Warshel Chemistry 2013 For the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems
James E. Rothman & Randy W. Schekman Physiology or Medicine 2013 For their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells
Brian K. Kobilka Chemistry 2012 For studies of G-protein-coupled receptors
Ei-ichi Negishi Chemistry 2010 For palladium-catalyzed cross couplings in organic synthesis

See a full list of NIGMS-supported Nobel Prize winners and links to news releases about their work.

Crossword Puzzle: Test Your Nobel Knowledge | Accessible Version

Featured Nobelist

Roderick MacKinnon, Rockefeller University

Roderick MacKinnon.Protein structure.Cells don't let just anything slip past their external membranes. Instead, protein channels control the passage of most substances, including the ions that allow nerves to signal, muscles to flex and hormones to be secreted in an orderly way. For more than a century, chemists have understood that the flow of ions across membranes could produce electrical signals. But exactly how ion channels work has only been known since 1998, when Roderick MacKinnon showed for the first time what these proteins look like at the atomic level. This was such a fundamental achievement that he won a Nobel Prize in chemistry for it just 5 years later.

"The role of channels in the body is so critical that we would not be alive were it not for the vigilance of these gateways in maintaining healthy cells. NIH-supported research in this area will no doubt continue to deepen understanding of the molecular roots of disease as well as fuel the discovery of new medicines to treat a wide variety of health disorders."
Elias A. Zerhouni, Former Director, National Institutes of Health
October 8, 2003


Nobel Prize Medal. Copyright The Nobel Foundation
© The Nobel Foundation

The Nobel Prize was created by Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel. The international award has been given yearly since 1901 for achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace. Another category, economics, was added by the Nobel Foundation in 1968. Winners receive their awards on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death. For more facts about the Nobel Prize, visit Link to external Web site


Want to know more about NIGMS and the award-winning researchers it funds? Visit

NIGMS is a part of the National Institutes of Health that supports basic research to increase our understanding of biological processes and lay the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention. For more information on the Institute's research and training programs, visit

Content revised October 2015

This page last reviewed on December 29, 2015