Discovery of genetic principle for generation of antibody diversity
Susumu Tonegawa was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine antibodies. Antibodies, or immunoglobulins, are produced by the immune system to target infections such as bacteria and viruses. To do this they must be capable of producing a wide range of antibodies in order to recognise the wide range of objects to target.
By comparing the chromosomes of adult and embryonic mice, Tonegawa found that the antibodies were formed from a random combination of antibody genes. From relatively few genes, billions of combinations could be produced and explained how this diversity is created. In his important 1976 paper, Tonegawa found that these genes were further apart in the embryonic mice than in the adult mice, proving that our genes continue to shuffle and change throughout our lifetime. Using his background in genetics, he transformed the field of immunology within a short space of time.