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The Stem-Cell Breakthroughs That Won the Nobel Prize

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Two scientists who each made a major discovery — four decades apart — share the science world's prestigious award.


On Monday, the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to two biologists for their breakthroughs in the field of stem-cell research — two discoveries that happened 44 years apart. The honors go to Britain's Sir John B. Gurdon and Japan's Shinya Yamanaka for their pioneering work with the life-shaping cells, which can be reprogrammed to create any kind of tissue in the body. Here, a concise guide to Gurdon and Yamanaka's contributions to the field of medicine:

What were they awarded the prize for?

Both discoveries "concern the manipulation of living cells," says Nicholas Wade at The New York Times, which lies "at the heart of the techniques for cloning animals" and curing a wide variety of diseases, including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. The "primitive cells" are incredibly malleable, and can be programmed to mature into other tissues, including skin, vital organs, and more.

Where do stem cells typically come from?

Embryonic stem cells are usually taken from early-stage human embryos, with the embryos being destroyed in the process. That's why stem-cell research is fraught with religious and moral issues, with critics often arguing that scientists are overstepping their boundaries by manipulating stem cells. The next generation of researchers, building upon the body of work started by Gurdon and Yamanaka, are looking into new techniques that sidestep ethical considerations by taking stem cells from other sources.

Specifically, what kind of work did Dr. Gurdon do?

In 1962, the year Yamanaka was born, Gurdon demonstrated that the DNA in frog tissue could be used to generate a fresh batch of tadpoles, says Karl Ritterlouise Nordstrom of The Associated Press. Gurdon's technique involved extracting the frog's chromosomes from an adult intestinal cell and injecting it into an empty frog egg, which was able to "reprogram" the new nucleus to switch its directive over to tadpole-making. At first his work was "greeted with skepticism," says the Times' Wade, because it "contradicted the textbook dogma" that mature cells are irrevocably set in their specific functions. The process itself was little understood, and it wasn't until more than four decades later in Dr. Yamanaka's labs that the reason behind this reprogramming was finally revealed.

And what did Dr. Yamanaka find?

In 2006, Dr. Yamanaka's research showed that four specific genes control the agents in the egg. Using mice, Yamanaka discovered that mature skin cells could be reprogrammed to become any other kind of cell, which he called inducted pluripotent stem cells (iPS) — basically the equivalent of embryonic stem cells. iPS cells can be taken from adult nerve, heart, or liver cells, and unlike their embryonic cousins, could be taken without destroying human embryos.

What do the scientists get for their discoveries?

Gurdon, 79, and Yamanaka, 50, will share the $1.2 million prize for their work, which the Nobel committee says has "revolutionized our understanding of how cells and organisms develop." In an interview, Dr. Yamanaka said, "My goal, all my life, is to bring this technology... to the bedside, to patients, to clinics." When asked if he planned to celebrate, Dr. Gurdon said he was invited to drinks at 6 o'clock. "I intend to attend those drinks," he dryly told the AP.

Every so often, we'll reprint something from our sister publication, The Week. This is one of those times.

Google Street View Now Lets You Explore the International Space Station

Google Street View covers some amazing locations (Antarctica, the Grand Canyon, and Stonehenge, to name a few), but it’s taken until now for the tool to venture into the final frontier. As TechCrunch reports, you can now use Street View to explore the inside of the International Space Station.

The scenes, photographed by astronauts living on the ISS, include all 15 modules of the massive satellite. Viewers will be treated to true 360-degree views of the rooms and equipment onboard. Through the windows, you can see Earth from an astronaut's perspective and a SpaceX Dragon craft delivering supplies to the crew.

Because the imagery was captured in zero gravity, it’s easy to lose sense of your bearings. Get a taste of what ISS residents experience on a daily basis here.

[h/t TechCrunch]

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Lucy Quintanilla/iStock
6 East Coast Castles to Visit for a Fairy Tale Road Trip
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Lucy Quintanilla/iStock

Once the stuff of fairy tales and legends, a variety of former castles have been repurposed today as museums and event spaces. Enough of them dot the East Coast that you can plan a summer road trip to visit half a dozen in a week or two, starting in or near New York City. See our turrent-rich itinerary below.


59 miles from New York City

The crumbling exterior of Bannerman Castle
Garrett Ziegler, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Bannerman Castle can be found on its very own island in the Hudson River. Although the castle has fallen into ruins, the crumbling shell adds visual interest to the stunning Hudson Highlands views, and can be visited via walking or boat tours from May to October. The man who built the castle, Scottish immigrant Frank Bannerman, accumulated a fortune shortly after the Civil War in his Brooklyn store known as Bannerman’s. He eventually built the Scottish-style castle as both a residence and a military weapons storehouse starting in 1901. The island remained in his family until 1967, when it was given to the Taconic Park Commission; two years later it was partially destroyed by a mysterious fire, which led to its ruined appearance.


116 miles from Beacon, New York

William Gillette was an actor best known for playing Sherlock Holmes, which may have something to do with where he got the idea to install a series of hidden mirrors in his castle, using them to watch guests coming and going. The unusual-looking stone structure was built starting in 1914 on a chain of hills known as the Seven Sisters. Gillette designed many of the castle’s interior features (which feature a secret room), and also installed a railroad on the property so he could take his guests for rides. When he died in 1937 without designating any heirs, his will forbade the possession of his home by any "blithering sap-head who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded.” The castle is now managed by the State of Connecticut as Gillette Castle State Park.


74 miles from East Haddam, Connecticut

The exterior of Belcourt castle
Jenna Rose Robbins, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Prominent architect Richard Morris Hunt designed Belcourt Castle for congressman and socialite Oliver Belmont in 1891. Hunt was known for his ornate style, having designed the facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island, but Belmont had some unusual requests. He was less interested in a building that would entertain people and more in one that would allow him to spend time with his horses—the entire first floor was designed around a carriage room and stables. Despite its grand scale, there was only one bedroom. Construction cost $3.2 million in 1894, a figure of approximately $80 million today. But around the time it was finished, Belmont was hospitalized following a mugging. It took an entire year before he saw his completed mansion.


111 miles from Newport, Rhode Island

Part of the exterior of Hammond castle
Robert Linsdell, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Inventor John Hays Hammond Jr. built his medieval-style castle between 1926 and 1929 as both his home and a showcase for his historical artifacts. But Hammond was not only interested in recreating visions of the past; he also helped shape the future. The castle was home to the Hammond Research Corporation, from which Hammond produced over 400 patents and came up with the ideas for over 800 inventions, including remote control via radio waves—which earned him the title "the Father of Remote Control." Visitors can take a self-guided tour of many of the castle’s rooms, including the great hall, indoor courtyard, Renaissance dining room, guest bedrooms, inventions exhibit room, library, and kitchens.


430 miles from Gloucester, Massachusetts

It's a long drive from Gloucester and only accessible by water, but it's worth it. The German-style castle on Heart Island was built in 1900 by millionaire hotel magnate George C. Boldt, who created the extravagant structure as a summer dream home for his wife Louise. Sadly, she passed away just months before the place was completed. The heartbroken Boldt stopped construction, leaving the property empty for over 70 years. It's now in the midst of an extensive renovation, but the ballroom, library, and several bedrooms have been recreated, and the gardens feature thousands of plants.


327 miles from Alexandria Bay, New York

Part of the exterior of Fonthill castle

In the mood for more castles? Head south to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where Fonthill Castle was the home of the early 20th century American archeologist, anthropologist, and antiquarian Henry Chapman Mercer. Mercer was a man of many interests, including paleontology, tile-making, and architecture, and his interest in the latter led him to design Fonthill Castle as a place to display his colorful tile and print collection. The inspired home is notable for its Medieval, Gothic, and Byzantine architectural styles, and with 44 rooms, there's plenty of well-decorated nooks and crannies to explore.


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