Nobel Prize in chemistry awarded to 'power of evolution'

Alicia Farmer
October 3, 2018

Two Americans and a Briton won the 2018 Nobel Prize for Chemistry on Wednesday for harnessing the power of evolution to generate novel proteins used in everything from environmentally friendly detergents to cancer drugs.

Arnold, of the California Institute of Technology, was recognized for performing the first-ever "directed evolution" of enzymes - proteins that catalyze chemical reactions - to see if they could be tailored to work differently, for example in new environments.

Arnold from the California Institute of Technology was awarded one half of the award, while George P. Smith from the University of Missouri and Sir Gregory P. Winter from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in the United Kingdom shared the other half.

Arnold, only the fifth woman to win a chemistry Nobel, was awarded half of the nine million Swedish krona (about $1.29 million Cdn) prize, while Smith and Winter shared the other half.

All three scientists took Charles Darwin's idea of natural selection, in which molecules or organisms accumulate mutations in a slow, random process, and figured out ways to identify and select specific mutations that improve the ability of molecules such as proteins and enzymes-workhorses that cells use to carry out all their basic functions-to attach to and change still other molecules. The scientists then test these generated enzymes and pinpoint which ones are the best at their job - sparking the reaction they're trying to achieve. "In 1985, George Smith developed an elegant method known as phage display, where a bacteriophage - a virus that infects bacteria - can be used to evolve new proteins", it added.

The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics went to laser physics inventors Arthur Ashkin, Gerard Mourou and Donna Strickland on Tuesday, while the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo on Monday, for their breakthrough in cancer research.

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He built up a collection of phages, with billions of antibody varieties on their surface, and engineered them make them more effective.

Wednesday: Nobel Prize in chemistry will be awarded. "It's happenstance. That was certainly the case with my work", he said. "Mine was an idea in a line of research that built very naturally on the lines of research that went before".

"It's a standard joke that someone with a Swedish accent calls and says 'You won!' But there was so much static on the line, I knew it wasn't any of my friends", he said. But we'll think hard how we'll do it.

Smith was a professor for 40 years at the University of Missouri at the Division of Biological Sciences. The literature award is not being given this year after a scandal that resulted in a rape conviction earlier this week.

The peace prize victor will be announced on Friday, followed by economics on Monday.

"At first glance it may seem that the Chemistry Nobel has been "biologised" again".

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