Two Japanese scientists were awarded Nobel Prizes earlier this week. Takaaki Kajita shares the Physics Prize with Arthur B. McDonald, while Satoshi Ōmura, William C. Campbell and Youyou Tu share the Medicine Prize.
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, one half of which was given to Chinese scientist Youyou Tu for another study, was awarded to Ōmura and Campbell for the discovery of a new therapy against parasitic infections. More specifically, a derivative of their drug Avermectin is used in the treatment of River Blindness and Lymphatic Filariasis and has also shown promising results for other parasitic diseases.
Satoshi Ōmura, a microbiologist, was able to isolate new strains of Streptomyces bacteria, a group known to produce antibacterial agents. William C. Campbell then worked on Ōmura’s cultures and extracted an agent that is very efficient against parasites. The refined version of this component became Avermectin.
The fight against parasitic diseases is a crucial one, as they affect a large part of the world. The discoveries of Ōmura, Campbell and Tu, who discovered a new drug against Malaria, are important steps towards a healthier world.
The discovery that earned Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B. McDonald their Physics Prize is just as groundbreaking. For a long time, physicists were faced with a curious disparity between theory and reality, as only one third of the theoretical number of neutrinos, the second most numerous particles in the universe, were observed in experiments. Through observations made at the Super-Kamiokande detector in Japan and the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory, Kajita and McDonald were able to show that the missing neutrinos had actually switched identity on their way to earth.
This peculiar behavior subsequently led to the conclusion that neutrinos must have a mass, contrary to what was thought. The discovery offered proof that the Standard Model of particle physics, which had been successful in describing the most fundamental components of our world, cannot be the complete theory, as it requires neutrinos to be massless.
The two Nobel Prizes further assert Japan’s importance in the scientific community. Among the laureates of the 21st century, 15 are Japanese. This makes Japan the second most awarded country, after the United States and before the United Kingdom. Given the quality of the country’s research, we strongly believe Ōmura and Kajita won’t be the last Japanese Nobel laureates.