Two scientists win Nobel Prize in medicine for how we sense temperature and touch

Two California-based scientists won the 2021 Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology on Monday for their discoveries of receptors for heat, cold, and touch.

David Julius of the University of California, San Francisco, and Ardem Patapoutian of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., figured out how stimuli are converted into nerve impulses so that temperature and pressure can be perceived — essential to humans’ survival. Julius’ work involved experiments with capsaicin, the substance that makes hot peppers hot, to identify a sensor in the nerve endings of the skin that responds to heat. Patapoutian unlocked the molecular basis for sensing temperature or mechanical force working with cold and used pressure-sensitive cells to discover a novel class of sensors that respond to mechanical stimuli in the skin and internal organs.

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