A Japanese scientist has won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, becoming the 19th Japanese Nobel laureate and triggering a new round of debate in China as to why no Chinese citizen has won such an accolade in science.
Shinya Yamanaka, 50, of Kyoto University in Japan, shared the $1.2 million prize with John Gurdon, 79, of the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge, Britain, announced the Nobel Assembly at the Swedish Karolinska Institute in Stockholm on Monday.
The two discovered ways to create tissue that would act like embryonic cells, without the need to harvest embryos.
"These groundbreaking discoveries have completely changed our view of the development and specialization of cells," the Nobel Assembly said in a statement.
Gurdon challenged the dogma that the specialized cell is irreversibly committed to its fate, and made a landmark discovery in 1962 that the specialization of cells is reversible in an experiment with an egg cell of a frog.
Yamanaka discovered in 2006 how intact mature cells in mice could be reprogrammed to become immature stem cells.
"By reprogramming human cells, scientists have created new opportunities to study diseases and develop methods for diagnosis and therapy," the assembly said in a statement.
The result sparked heated debate among Chinese Internet users. After congratulating the winners, many netizens could not help but ask the question that has been repeated many times - why has China failed to nurture a Nobel laureate in science or technology after so many years?
Some felt the award came at an awkward time as tensions between China and Japan have escalated over the Diaoyu Islands in the past few months.
"I feel the Japanese have beaten us in the Nobel Prize," a netizen wrote on his Sina Weibo.
Others blamed the education system in China as being excessively exam-oriented and lacking in creativity.
"China has made rapid progress in technology. But it still lags behind Japan in science research and higher education," Fang Zhouzi, a famous whistleblower on academic fraud dubbed the "science cop," told the Global Times on Monday.
In the domain of science, the Nobel Prize has frequently been awarded to people in Europe, US and Japan, because they are strong in these fields, Fang said.
"I wouldn't expect to see any Nobel Prize winner in science in China for the next 10 plus years," Fang said, "If a batch of Nobel Prize winners in science turns up in our country, we could say China has made great achievements in science."
The winners of the physics prize will be announced on Tuesday, to be followed by those for chemistry on Wednesday, literature on Thursday, peace on Friday and economics next Monday.
Agencies contributed to this story.