China, 2008: H. Robert Horvitz

Following the suggestion of Sidney Brenner to document all the cells in Caenorhabditis elegans, Bob Horvitz and John Sulston in 1977 published a map of the worm’s development, noting also that 111 cells were born only to die shortly thereafter. By 1990 Horvitz’s group had identified a small number of genes that controlled the deaths of these cells, when they electrified the community by announcing that the primary killer gene was not only a protease but a known protease.


This discovery burst open the entire subject of apoptosis, leading quickly to recognition of the caspase family of proteases and generating the fervent activity that we now see in research and biotechnical and pharmaceutical efforts to directly or indirectly control the activity of caspases and thereby apoptosis. For this and many subsequent discoveries, Horvitz, Sulston, and Brenner were awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.