Thursday, 15 November, 2018

Chemistry Nobel prize awarded to pioneers of directed evolution

Anna Jefferson | 04 October, 2018, 08:40

Arnold won one half of the nine million Swedish kronor (about $1.01 million or 870,000 euros) prize, while Smith and Winter shared the other half.

Two Americans and one Briton have won the 2018 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for developing new processes used to create drugs, chemicals and biofuels.

Arnold flew back to California for a news conference at Caltech, which she called a "jewel of an institution" where she was always "pushed to do her best and do things other people couldn't do".

At a time when gender bias in the sciences is under scrutiny as never before Arnold's win makes her the first woman to take the chemistry prize since Ada Yonath in 2009 for her work on the ribosome's inner workings.

Describing Arnold's contribution, the academy noted: "In 1993, she conducted the first directed evolution of enzymes, which are proteins that catalyse chemical reactions". In this process, viruses that can infect bacteria, known as bacteriophages, are used to produce new proteins that are not believed to exist in nature. Winter used this technology to develop new drugs that have transformed medicine, offering therapies for diseases ranging from cancer to autoimmune conditions.

The academy says, in recent years, the phage display method has created antibodies able to do a wide number of health-related tasks. In a nutshell, Arnold introduced genetic mutations into enzymes, and then looked to see what effect the mutations had.

"Support the professional development of young women, give them opportunities to talk and network, mentor them and nominate them for prizes, Nobel or otherwise".

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the year 2018 has been announced.

But even these real-world applications are only the beginning of what scientists could create using directed evolution, according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

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"She has truly made a big difference by finding out how to apply directed evolution to microorganisms", said Athanassios Panagiotopoulos, the Susan Dod Brown Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Princeton and chair of the department.

Winter says he realized afterward there was a "moral imperative" to ensure "what was produced could be used for public benefit".

He concludes, "Very few research breakthroughs are novel. Virtually all of them build on what went on before", he said.

"My sense is that women often work towards the collective good and often may sacrifice their individual career for advancing the community", she said.

"There is also a growing, and concerning, area of society, who contemporary politicians and social media are allowing to propagate old-fashioned and sexist views", she said. On Monday, James Allison, who spent three years as a postdoctoral fellow at Scripps Research in La Jolla, won the Nobel in physiology or medicine for his work in fighting cancer.

Only 3 percent of science prizes have been awarded to women in science, Erin Ross reported for Axios previous year.

Meanwhile, scientists from the United States, Canada and France shared the physics prize on Tuesday.

A University of Missouri professor has been awarded a Nobel Prize.

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