UT alumnus wins 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of The Rockefeller University

UT alumnus Michael Young was awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on Monday for his research toward identifying a gene that determines the circadian rhythms of living things. 

Young’s work has helped researchers understand sleep disorders and other factors that disrupt people’s sleep patterns. At a press conference held today at Rockefeller University, where Young is a genetics professor and vice president for academic affairs, Young pointed to UT as his life work’s starting point.

“This is a (subject) that I’ve had the good fortune to work on for most of my career,” Young said at the press conference. “It actually started when I was a graduate student at the University of Texas.”

According to a UT press release, Young received a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1971 and a doctoral degree in zoology in 1975. Young said he first began his research on genetics using fruit flies more than 40 years ago. Molecular biosciences professor Jeffrey Chen said UT researchers have a history of conducting award-winning genetic research.

“Prior to Dr. Young, (former UT professor) Hermann Joseph Muller, another Nobel Laureate (in 1946), used fruit flies to produce mutations using X-ray irradiation,” Chen said. “I believe this part of history and tradition would have influenced hiring creative faculty members, who would nurture stimulating environments for extraordinary students like Michael Young to excel.”

Molecular biosciences professor David Stein said Young’s award announcement could attract talented faculty to the school.

“I foresee UT recruiting terrific people, specifically terrific faculty, to Texas,” Stein said.

Biology freshman Sydney McIlvain said learning about the Nobel Prize winner from UT gave her hope for her future scientific endeavors. 

“It reassures me that, once I graduate UT, I know I will have a strong foundation that will help me with whatever I end up choosing to do in the future,” McIlvain said.

According to the press release, Young and fellow researchers Jeffrey Hall and Michael Rosbash will receive a medal, cash prize and diploma at a ceremony in Stockholm this December. Young said the news, while satisfying, took him by surprise.

“You have this satisfaction that you began 40-something years ago, thinking about a problem that was a thought and a hope and a dream,” Young said in the press conference. “It has unfolded in a way that just couldn’t be imagined in the beginning.”