Linda B. Buck
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2004
Born: 29 January 1947, Seattle, WA, USA
Affiliation at the time of the award: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA, USA
Prize motivation: “for their discoveries of odorant receptors and the organization of the olfactory system”
Prize share: 1/2
Linda Buck was born in Seattle, Washington in the United States. Her mother's interest in puzzles and her father's ingenuity sowed the seed that would go on to bloom into her interest in science. Buck was free to pursue her interests and learned to think independently and critically. While taking a course in immunology at the University of Washington, Buck was enticed to pursue biology. After receiving her Bachelor's degree in microbiology in 1975, Buck moved to the University of Texas, Dallas, where she received a PhD in immunology in 1980. She then moved to Columbia University, New York, where she teamed up with Richard Axel.
Together with Richard Axel in 1991, Linda Buck discovered how hundreds of genes in our DNA code for the odorant sensors located in the olfactory sensory neurons in our noses. Each receptor is a protein that changes when an odorant attaches itself to the receptor. This causes an electric signal to be sent to the brain. Small differences between different odorant sensors mean that certain odorants cause a signal to be released from a certain receptor. Smells are composed of a large number of different substances and we interpret the varying signals from our receptors as specific scents.