Shaw Prize for Patrick Cramer

 The biochemist is honoured for his pioneering work in the field of gene transcription

May 30, 2023

Patrick Cramer shares the prestigious award in the life sciences with Eva Nogales from the University of California, Berkeley. Both scientists have made significant contributions to elucidating gene transcription, one of the fundamental processes to life, through the lens of structural biology. With the help of this copying process, living cells create copies of their genes, which subsequently function as blueprints for protein production.  Patrick Cramer's research has shed light on how so-called RNA polymerases control this process. The Shaw Prize, which is awarded annually in the domains of life sciences, mathematics, and astronomy, is endowed with one million US dollars in each category.

The question of how genes are regulated is one of the profound mysteries in the field of biology. Inside cells, only active genes are transcribed into lengthy  RNA molecules, which then serve as the building instructions for proteins. This copying process, known as transcription, is carried out by specialised biological nanomachines, the so-called RNA polymerases.

As stated in the press release by the Shaw Foundation in Hong Kong, Patrick Cramer used x-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy to enable the visualisation, at the level of individual atoms, of key steps for gene transcription. His pioneering contributions have not only revolutionized research in gene regulation, but has also deepened our understanding of cellular processes within the nucleus. The press release also highlights Cramer's groundbreaking accomplishment of creating the world's first "movie" depicting gene transcription. 

 In addition, Patrick Cramer's research group has spent many years investigating the complex regulation of transcription, which plays a crucial role in the development of organisms. In pursuit of this objective, the researchers have developed methods enabling the tracking of gene activity within living cells. In this way, they succeeded in gaining fundamental insights into the nature of the "gene switches", whose functionality holds significant medical implications, such as in the context of cancer development.

Shortly after the onset of the Covid- 19 pandemic in Europe, Patrick Cramer's research group  also “filmed" how the coronavirus duplicated its genetic material and unravelled the three-dimensional structure adopted by the pathogen's polymerase during the copying process. Additionally, his team successfully elucidated the precise mechanisms by which the Covid-19 drugs remdesivir and molnupiravir exert their therapeutic effects.

"So thankful to all coworkers who contributed over the decades and made this possible," Cramer wrote on Twitter in response to the news. "It was also due to the incredible support of the Max Planck Society and… all colleagues who supported this that the lab could follow this risky and demanding path,” Cramer emphasised.

About the Shaw Prize

The Shaw Prize is being awarded for the 20th time this year. Alongside the Japan Prize, it is considered one of the most important scientific awards in Asia. Within the Max Planck Society, Simon D. M. White, Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics, received this distinguished honour in astronomy in 2017, while Reinhard Genzel from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics was awarded the prize in 2008. Gerd Faltings, Max Planck Institute for Mathematics, received the Shaw Prize in Mathematical Sciences 2015, and F. Ulrich Hartl from the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry, received it in life science in 2012. The award ceremony for this year’s recipients will take place on 12 November 2023 in Hong Kong.


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