Randy Schekman

Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine


The cell can sometimes resemble a busy shipping port. Thousands of proteins are produced by the cell every second. These proteins are packaged into membrane-bound sacs, called vesicles, ready to be transported to destinations around the cell, or outside of it. But how do these vesicles know where to go? And what signals do they use to guide them on their journey?

In the 1970s, cell biologist Randy Schekman discovered the answers to these questions. By studying yeast cells with defective transport systems, Professor Schekman elucidated the genes that regulate protein flow within a cell. Later studies proved that higher organisms also have similar cellular traffic-control systems. Professor Schekman’s discovery brought about a new understanding to fundamental cell biology, earning him the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He shared the prize with Professor James Rothman and fellow GYSS speaker Professor Thomas Südhof.

Professor Schekman was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota and grew up in a close-knit family. He moved to the greater LA area when he was 10, after his engineer father landed a job in the budding computer industry. For the young Schekman, seventh grade marked a turning point in his life. It was the year he first attended the school science fair, an event he says captivated him and “resonated somehow in a way that nothing else in my experience in school ever had.” It was also the year he received a toy microscope. Scooping up a jar of pond scum from the local creek and watching it come to life under the lens stirred a fascination for the microbial world and set young Schekman on a path to science — one he never looked back from since.

Professor Schekman enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1966. Initially studying medicine, he soon switched to molecular biology. Professor Schekman later received his PhD in biochemistry from Stanford University, working in the lab of renowned biochemist Arthur Kornberg.

In 1976, he joined the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, where he continues to teach and conduct research today. His lab now studies cultured mammalian cells, and is exploring how RNA is packaged within the cell. He is a strong advocate for open access science, and is the editor-in-chief of the peer-reviewed open access journal eLife and was previously the editor-in-chief of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the official journal of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).