Paul Ehrlich Prize for immunologists old and sweet

Wow can the human immune system produce ten billion different antibodies to fight disease, when the blueprints for only 20,000 proteins are stored in the entire genome? The American immunologists Frederick Alt and David Schatz have given an answer to this question. For this they will be honored with the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize 2023. The award is endowed with 120,000 euros and will be presented on March 14, Paul Ehrlich’s birthday, in the Paulskirche.

As the Paul Ehrlich Foundation announced on Tuesday, Alt and Schatz have made a key contribution to explaining the mechanism by which the genetic information for a wide variety of antibodies is assembled. Schatz discovered an enzyme called RAG1/2 that plays a crucial role in this process.

A tamed parasite

The gene that enables its formation was originally a DNA parasite – its “taming” was a prerequisite for the emergence of the adaptive immune system. Alt, in turn, identified the enzymes that complete the reassembly of genetic information initiated by RAG1/2 by repairing DNA.

Alt, 73 years old, is a professor at Harvard Medical School. His 64-year-old colleague, Schatz, holds a chair at Yale University.

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