Scientists David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian were recently awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize in Medicine for their essential research, studying how humans sense their environment. Julius used capsaicin (the spice found in chili peppers) to discover how nerve cells respond to increasing levels of spice, while Patapoutian’s work uncovered a fundamental gene that illuminates how bodies translate stimuli. Both scientists, through independent research, relied on menthol to locate a receptor that senses the cold, deepening scientists’ understanding of bodily reactions. Thanks to these groundbreaking discoveries, researchers can now work toward medical treatments that don’t rely on opioids for pain relief. Find out more about these studies at Smithsonian Magazine.
Image by Niklas Elmehed, courtesy of Nobel Prize Outreach/Smithsonian Magazine