Published: Sept. 14, 2023

CU Boulder distinguished professor Karolin Luger is awarded the 2023 World Laureates Association Prize in Life Sciences or Medicine

University of Colorado Boulder researcher Karolin Luger, a distinguished professor of biochemistry and Jennie Smoly Caruthers Endowed Chair of Biochemistry, has been awarded the 2023 World Laureates Association Prize in Life Science or Medicine.

The award, announced Thursday morning in Shanghai, China, recognizes Luger’s deep body of research “elucidating the structure of the nucleosome at the atomic level, providing the basis for understanding chromatin, gene regulation and epigenetics,” the award citation notes.

The World Laureates Association (WLA) Prize is an international science prize established in 2021 that recognizes researchers and technologists worldwide for their contributions to science. It aims to “support global science and technology advancement, address the challenges to humanity and promote society's long-term progress,” according to the WLA.

The WLA Prize is awarded in two categories: computer science or mathematics and life science or medicine. The winners in each category share approximately $1.38 million as part of the award.

Karolin Luger

CU Boulder distinguished professor Karolin Luger received the 2023 World Laureates Association Prize in Life Science or Medicine Thursday.

Luger is joined in the WLA Prize in Life Science or Mathematics by Daniela Rhodes, emeritus group leader at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge University, and Timothy J. Richmond, professor emeritus of crystallography of biological macromolecules at ETH Zurich.

Luger, Richmond and Rhodes partnered on groundbreaking research published in 1997 that “revealed details of the nucleosome structure that have guided subsequent studies on chromatin-binding proteins, histone-modifying enzymes and nucleosome positioning and remodeling and their control of transcription regulation and DNA replication,” the WLA notes. The three laureates "have left an indelible mark on the history of our understanding of chromosome structure" through their more than two decades of research.

Luger and her colleagues in the Luger Lab focus much of their current research on the structural and mechanistic biology of genome organization in all domains of life. A significant goal is to understand the fundamental impact of chromatin architecture on genome-related processes such as gene transcription, DNA replication and DNA repair in eukaryotes, or cells in which the genetic material of DNA is contained within a nucleus in the form of chromosomes. They also study chromatin organization in non-eukaryotic organisms such a viruses, archaea and bacteria, to elucidate the evolutionary origins of the nucleosome.

The lab also studies a protein that serves as a first responder to DNA damage, by recruiting the complicated machinery to prevent dangerous, disease-causing  mutation. An aim of this research is to design better drugs for treating cancer through comprehensive investigations of its structure and mechanism.

The WLA Prize is a meaningful recognition of this research. “Just like the DNA double helix which it organizes, the nucleosome is almost transcendent in its beauty, and it provides so much insight into genome organization,” Luger says. “Images of the structure are found on the cover of textbooks, in museums and they have inspired works of art. It took a lot of effort and grit not just from the three of us, but by many of our coworkers, to make it reveal its secrets. I am thrilled and honored to share this prize with Tim and Daniela, but in my mind the real winner is the nucleosome.”

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