“Still we have so many questions.”
Telephone interview with Yoshinori Ohsumi following the announcement of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 3 October 2016. The interviewer is Adam Smith, Chief Scientific Officer of Nobel Media.
Transcript of the interview
[Yoshinori Ohsumi]: Moshi, Moshi, Yoshinori speaking.
[Adam Smith]: Hello, Professor Ohsumi. My name is Adam Smith. I’m calling from the official website for the Nobel Prize.
YO: Ah ha, yeah..
AS: First of all, our congratulations on the award of the Nobel Prize.
YO: Thank you so much. Yes, I was surprised.
AS: [Laughs] How did you hear the news?
YO: I had a call from Thomas Perlmann.
AS: Yes, Secretary of the Nobel Committee, yes indeed.
YO: Yeah, Nobel Assembly.
AS: Nobel Assembly, yes. And where were you when you received the news?
YO: I was in my lab.
AS: And your first reaction?
YO: I heard that, single only, me! It was also a surprise for me.
AS: It’s true, because it’s rare that they give the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to just a single Laureate. What do you think this says about the role of the single researcher these days?
YO: That’s my real surprise because so many people are now working in the autophagy field.
AS: Autophagy is a huge area. But it’s not…
YO: Yeah, recently.
AS: Recently, exactly.
YO: Just recently I think.
AS: Very largely because of your work.
YO: Yes, it’s so, developed fast, yeah. When I started my work, probably every year 20 or less papers appeared on autophagy. Now more than 5,000 or something like that. It’s a huge change within probably these 15 years or so.
AS: A real explosion.
YO: I actually started more than 27 years ago.
AS: It was a good choice of field.
YO: Yeah, it was lucky. Yeah, yeast was a very good system and autophagy was a very good topic to work. Still we have so many questions. Even now we have more questions than when I started.
AS: Once again it underlines the power of yeast as an experimental model.
AS: You can do so much with yeast. And does it surprise you how similar yeast is to ourselves?
YO: I believe there are fundamental functions of the cells should be conserved from yeast to mammals. So that’s my belief. But of course vacuole is different from lysosome, but I thought that most fundamental mechanisms must be conserved. That was my assumption when I started my work.
AS: You sound as if you’re still in a slight state of shock.
YO: Yeah, mmm.
AS: And will you be coming to Stockholm in December to receive your award?
YO: Yeah, yeah.
AS: Wonderful. Well we very much look forward to meeting you then and to talking further.
AS: Thank you very much indeed for speaking to us now.
YO: Thanks so much.
AS: Congratulations again and we wish you a wonderful day.
Their work and discoveries range from cancer therapy and laser physics to developing proteins that can solve humankind’s chemical problems. The work of the 2018 Nobel Laureates also included combating war crimes, as well as integrating innovation and climate with economic growth. Find out more.