Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded for using evolution to develop new chemicals

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On Tuesday, the Royal Academy of Sciences awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics to Arthur Ashkin of United States and jointly to Gerard Mourou (US) and Donna Strickland (Canada) for their groundbreaking inventions in the field of laser physics.

The method is now widely used in the production of new synthetic drugs, such as recombinant antibodies, to process or produce biofuels and medical treatments.

The Guardian's Nicola Davis reports that Arnold's directed evolution of enzymes (proteins that catalyze, or accelerate, chemical reactions) essentially boils down to the introduction of genetic mutations that allow enzymes to perform more efficiently or in ways that they normally wouldn't.

"I can alter anything that's encoded in DNA", Arnold-the first woman, and eighth living scientist, to be elected to all three of the U.S. National Academies-told Science in 2008.

But, she added: "I think there is a large list of barriers that women have to overcome including unconscious bias, different expectations and demands on their time". No literature prize will be awarded this year, but the Swedish Academy that awards the prestigious prize is still in the limelight. "But since I'm an engineer and not a gentleman, I had no problem with that", Arnold said in an interview in 2014.

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Arnold credited her four brothers for giving her the skills to move from a career in mechanical engineering to protein engineering, for which she won the Nobel Prize.

NPR detailed Arnold's work in 2012 after she spoke at a TEDMED conference.

Bacteriophage infects bacteria in order to reproduce.

Arnold likened the duties of these molecules to sex.

She and the graduate students working with her soon found that it was much harder to anticipate the effects of designed changes than they had thought. The Omani researcher has been in Japan for three years now and she says that she has been mesmerized with the country since she was in school. In addition, with the method called phage display, they have also evolved proteins with new binding properties, such as antibodies that can be used to treat disease.

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Arnold is the Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Phage display has produced antibodies that can neutralize toxins, counteract autoimmune diseases and even cure metastatic cancer. George P. Smith was born in 1941 in Norwalk, Connecticut, and he's now at the University of Missouri, in Columbia, in the United States.

Of the 112 physics prizes the Nobel committee has awarded since 1901, the only women winners before Strickland were Marie Curie in 1903 and Maria Goeppert Mayer in 1963. The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, honoring Alfred Nobel, the man who endowed the five Nobel Prizes, will be revealed on Monday.

James Allison of the United States and Tasuku Honjo of Japan jointly won the 2018Nobel Prize in Medicine on October 1, for developing a pioneering therapeutic approach for cancer treatment.

Carol Robinson, president of Britain's Royal Society of Chemistry, said the award highlighted "the tremendous role of chemistry in contributing to many areas of our lives including pharmaceuticals, detergents, green catalysis and biofuels" and that the research was "transforming medicine".

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