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Dr Savani Anbalagan challenges Nobel Prize-winning discovery!

Dr Savani Anbalagan from the AMU Faculty of Biology is questioning the Nobel Prize-winning discovery of 2019! It concerned the detection of oxygen by cells. The scientist believes that there are gas receptors in every cell which directly respond to the presence of oxygen. His revolutionary theory, published in the renowned journal of the American Physiological Society, suggests an overhaul of our understanding of how cells sense oxygen.

Since the origin of life, gases have played a crucial role in the evolution of organisms. The mechanisms for sensing gases should be conserved in all organisms, from bacteria to humans. Among gases, oxygen is essential for animal life. Oxygen is required by cells to generate ATP, the fuel for cells. This process occurs in the mitochondria, which are present in every animal cell. Otto Warburg was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1931 for discovering the mitochondrial enzymatic process. Describing how the glomerulus detects oxygen and controls respiration through the brain led to another Nobel Prize - for Corneille Heymans in 1938. The discovery of the structure of haemoglobin (an oxygen transport protein) also won a Nobel Prize - to Max Perutz and John Kendrew in 1962. The 2019 Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology was awarded to William G. Kaelin Jr., Sir Peter J. Ratcliffe and Gregg L. Semenza for demonstrating a method by which cells recognise and respond to changes in oxygen levels. The scientists' discoveries have substantial implications for the research on anaemia, cancer and many other diseases.

As mentioned by Dr Anbalagan, the 2019 Nobel Prize raised several questions for him, concretised during one of Prof Zofia Szweykowska-Kulinska's lectures. At the time, the scientist raised the question: "If there is a receptor for nitric oxide, a gas, what is the receptor for oxygen? How is it that the 1998 Nobel Prize mentioned the receptor for nitric oxide, but the 2019 Nobel Prize is silent on the receptor for oxygen?".

Receptors are proteins embedded on the cell surface or in the cytoplasm, involved in receiving information from the outside and transmitting the signal to the inside of the cell. There are various types of cellular receptors: receptors sensing RNA, receptors sensitive to light, gravity, etc.

- I am very much surprised by this," says Dr Anbalagan. The five Nobel Prizes were for two different gases, but only one of them mentioned a receptor. Scientists have identified ways in which specialised sensory cells in worms can sense oxygen with sensors, but., unfortunately, most studies on mice and humans have not mentioned oxygen receptors.

Photo credit: Łukasz Gdak