Page 2 of 2 Previous
Schekman, who started at Berkeley in 1976, and the two other winners were credited with discovering how hormones and enzymes are transported within cells.
Those discoveries, starting in the 1970s and 1980s, eventually allowed pharmaceutical companies to use the information to produce mass quantities of insulin and vaccines, among other medical uses.
Today, Schekman said, one-third of the world supply of human insulin is produced with this technique.
But Schekman readily admits that he was not motivated by the commercial uses of his work. “We started with no practical application in mind,” he said. But that demonstrates the importance of basic research, which he fears is being diminished and underfunded in the current political environment.
Schekman, the eldest of five children, said he vividly remembers listening to the radio at his Minneapolis home when Sputnik, the Soviet satellite, was launched in 1957. The event was a turning point in the Cold War, he noted, sparking a huge American investment in science education. And he was the beneficiary of that, he said.
“Our current Washington climate is so antithetical to that,” he said in an interview. “What we need is another Sputnik … to convince the intransigents in Washington that we’re doing damage to our science infrastructure in this country.”
The three winners will travel to Stockholm in December to receive the award and share the prize money, approximately $1.2 million.
The award for medicine is the first of the Nobel Prizes to be named this month. Awards in physics, chemistry, literature, peace and economics will follow.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.