At the age of 31, he made his handed down achievements, but he was kept in the dust for many years and gave up his research|Story of the old Nobel Prize winner

▎WuXi AppTec Content Team Editor

In 2019, Professor John Goodenough, 97, finally received a call from the Nobel Prize Committee (though he missed it). The lithium battery pioneer who changed the face of the world has won the highest award in the scientific community and has become the oldest recipient of the Nobel Prize in the 100-year history.

Today, lithium batteries have been integrated into our lives. However, in the 1970s, due to cost and safety issues, the development of lithium batteries in the early days was not smooth. In 1980, Professor Goodenough made a revolutionary breakthrough. He proposed that lithium metal oxide lithium cobaltate (LiCoO2) can be used as a cathode material for lithium batteries. Today, we still use this material to make lithium batteries. This achievement also won the Nobel Prize for Professor Goodenough nearly 40 years later.

Similar to Professor Goodenough, there are many scientists who have won the Nobel Prize in their old age. From making key achievements to being awarded the Nobel Prize, what have these scientists experienced in the decades? Next, we will witness the tortuous development of science from the stories of two old winners in the history of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

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Viruses and Cancer

The oldest recipient in the history of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is Professor Peyton Rous. The 1966 prize was awarded to Professor Rous, who was 87 years old at the time, for his research going back 56 years. At the time, Professor Rous, who was working at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, obtained a cancerous chicken with a sarcoma. He found that after grinding the sarcoma tissue into a cell-free filtrate and injecting it into normally infected chickens, other chickens also developed sarcomas. Therefore, Professor Rous believes that chicken tumor cells contain a mysterious virus, “Rous Sarcoma Virus” (RSV), which can transmit cancer to other individuals.

▲Professor Peyton Rous (Photo source: Nobel Prize official website)

Today we know that Professor Rous’s speculation is undoubtedly correct, and that the virus he proposes is a retrovirus. But at the time, Professor Rous’s findings were not recognized. On the one hand, people’s understanding of the virus was still very limited at that time; on the other hand, the relatively crude experimental conditions were also criticized: some people believed that Professor Rous’s experiments may not completely filter out tumor cells.

It was the results of his research over the next few years that finally repelled Professor Rous. Professor Rous tried to replicate this result in mammals, but it never happened. In 1915, a frustrated Professor Rous left the field of oncology and began to study the pathology of blood and liver. It is worth mentioning that, just two years later, Professor Rous’s pioneering research on blood transfusion led to the birth of the first blood bank. In 1934, Professor Rous returned to the field of oncology and conducted in-depth research on the papilloma “giant wart” in hare, proving that papilloma virus can cause hare to infect tumors.

However, Professor Rous’s discovery in 1910 had been shrouded in dust for many years. Until the 1950s, with the development of various research methods, people were able to re-understand viruses. Some viruses can integrate their own genetic material into the genetic material of recipient cells, permanently changing cell properties without killing the cells, explaining how viruses cause cancer. In new experiments, RSV has also been shown to cause cancer in different mammals.

Finally, Professor Rous’ discovery has been confirmed after half a century. The Nobel Prize also came late when Professor Rous was 87 years old. Three years later, Professor Rous passed away.

Looking back at Professor Rous’s research career after the discovery of RSV, although his achievements were not recognized in the first place, he still made important contributions in research in a new field. The recognition received many years later can be said to be the perfect ending to this story.

Controversy surrounding bees

The following senior recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine can be said to be somewhat unusual in the field of research. The 1973 prize was a rare award to three researchers in animal behavior: Prof. Konrad Lorenz, Prof. Karl von Frisch and Prof. Nikolass Tinbergen. Among them, the most familiar may be Professor Lorenz – he is the scientist in the high school biology textbook who is regarded as the mother by the duckling. And Karlvon Frisch won the award at the age of 87 for her research on bee behavior.

▲Professor Karl von Frisch (Photo source: Nobel Prize website)

Simply put, Professor von Frisch’s award-winning discovery is: When a bee finds nectar, it flies and dances in a special pattern that communicates to other bees.

Back in the 1920s, Professor von Frisch proposed his original theory that when a bee discovering nectar dances, other bees follow because of the nectar aroma on it. It was not until the 1940s that Professor von Frisch’s theory finally took shape. He realized that bees could transmit information through different dance forms, telling their companions where the nectar was, and that changes in the position of the sun gave the bees a tool for orientation.

Professor von Frisch’s research on bee behavior made him a world-renowned scholar, and even Einstein listened to and talked to Professor von Frisch’s lectures, thinking about the physical mechanisms involved.

However, the debate around this conclusion has persisted, with heated discussions continuing into Professor von Frisch’s 80s, even when he was awarded the Nobel Prize. Among them, American biologist Professor Adrian Wenner is a representative scholar who opposes the above viewpoint. His experimental results show that the bees judge whether their companions have found nectar only by smell, and the dance is only to attract the attention of other bees, and the information is completely ignored.

Such an argument is certainly not a bad thing for scientific development. After Professor von Frisch’s death, experiments by other scientists provided further evidence for Professor von Frisch’s conclusions. Today, academic debates over bee behavior and information exchange continue.

Starting October 3, the 2022 Nobel Prizes will be announced one after another. On this year’s list of popular candidates for winners, there are also a group of senior scientists who have not yet been favored by the Nobel Prize Committee. For example, Professor Max D. Cooper and Professor Jacques Miller, who discovered B lymphocytes and T lymphocytes, are 89 years old and 91 years old respectively; Professor Pierre Chambon, now 91, is also regarded as a potential candidate for his contributions to the field of nuclear receptor pathways. The candidates for… Which scientists will this year’s Nobel Prize go to, and can these senior scientists get their wish? On October 3rd and October 5th, the WuXi AppTec content team will interpret the results of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and Chemistry for the first time. We will join you in witnessing the unveiling of the highest awards in science.


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[3] Dancing with Bees, retrieved from https: