Trio win Nobel Chemistry Prize for 'a revolution in evolution'

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The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences acknowledged the role that evolution principles played in all this year's recipients' work. Lab colleagues told Winter that 2,793 pounds ($3,636) worth of Champagne have been ordered before asking "can we have your credit card please?"

Honjo and Allison will split the Nobel prize amount of 9 million in Swedish krona, or $1.01 million.

Marie Curie, Joliot-Curie's mother, shared half of the prize with her husband and fellow physicist Pierre Curie in 1911 for "the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel". "My hat's off to Smith, Winter, and Arnold for their contributions to this multidisciplinary field that beautifully integrates chemistry, molecular biology, and protein science".

MARTIN: And what did they do that has given them this honor?

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The award "wonderfully recognizes the power of harnessing protein evolution to solve a wide range of problems in the molecular sciences", says David Liu, a chemist and directed evolution expert at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

One example of Arnold's ground-breaking research includes a method of creating new proteins with desired properties is being used to convert renewable resources like sugar cane into biofuels. Her research with enzymes speeds up the reaction and could replace more toxic catalysts.

GREENFIELDBOYCE:.The enzyme to do exactly what they wanted it to do. A biochemist by training, Frances Arnold's research is actually multi dimensional - and her work has major applications in synthetic biology.

Arnold first tested her method of what has been called "directed evolution" in 1993. He then found the ones that bound the best to specific proteins and randomly mutated them. Arnold received half the prize, and Smith and Winter split the other half.

Prof Smith developed the technique of phage display later adopted by Sir Gregory.

Smith genetically engineered the bacteriophage, inserting unknown genes to see what proteins would be made, as the proteins would end up displayed on the surface of the phage. And, you know, by doing that, you can create antibodies as all kinds of new medicines to treat diseases. "It's not just the money, it has a meaning well beyond the money".

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Winter, of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, then harnessed that method and used it to direct the evolution of new antibodies - immune proteins that bind to and neutralize pathogens such as bacteria or viruses - with the aim of making new drugs.

Enzymes "are what all we organisms use to make our chemicals". Such enzymes are now routinely used for more environmentally friendly production of synthetic chemicals.

"Medicines based on Sir Greg's discovery have transformed the lives of patients around the world".

The first pharmaceutical based on this method, adalimumab, was approved in 2002 and is used for rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel diseases. Newly created antibodies can make some poisonous substances safe, fight autoimmune diseases and even cure some forms of cancer.

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Frances Arnold, a professor of chemical engineering, bioengineering and biochemistry at Caltech in Pasadena, is the fifth woman to win a Nobel Prize in chemistry.

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