- Associated Press - Thursday, October 8, 2015

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - It was in a small blue collar town in northern New Mexico that Paul Modrich started down a path that would eventually earn him one of the world’s most renowned awards.

The Raton native was one of three scientists who received the Nobel Prize for chemistry on Wednesday. He told writers at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute that his hometown helped spark his curiosity, reported The Santa Fe New Mexican (https://bit.ly/1R19ymT ).

“There was huge biological diversity around me,” he said, according to a story published by that institute on Wednesday. “Within five miles, the ecology can change dramatically. It was very thought provoking.”

The 69-year-old Modrich and his fellow researchers, Thomas Lindahl and Aziz Sancar, were awarded the prize for research that explains how cells repair and protect DNA, a finding that helps physicians understand and combat diseases.

Dave Modrich, the Nobel laureate’s younger brother, still lives in Raton. He told The New Mexican that it was no surprise that Paul Modrich grew up to be a chemist with impressive credentials, including degrees from MIT and Stanford University and research performed at Duke University for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

“In school, he was doing science projects all the time,” said the younger Modrich. “I guess you’d say he was a bookworm.”

He said Wednesday that he hadn’t heard from his brother since the prize was announced in Stockholm. Paul Modrich was vacationing in New Hampshire at the time.

Meanwhile, Raton was swelling with pride after seeing the name 1964 Raton High School show up in worldwide news.

“The city and the county are very proud and very energized by his accomplishment,” said Roy Fernandez, a Colfax County commissioner.

“We’re all excited,” added Cindi Berry, the Raton High attendance officer.

The scientist’s late father, Laurence Modrich, was a biology teacher and coach at the high school. Paul Modrich wasn’t interested in sports, but he told the Howard Hughes Medical Institute that he heeded advice his father passed down when he was a high school junior:

“You should learn about this DNA stuff.”


Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, https://www.sfnewmexican.com

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