Chemistry Nobel prize awarded to pioneers of directed evolution

Olive Hawkins
October 5, 2018

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2018 was jointly awarded Wednesday to three people who've used the power of evolution "to develop proteins that solve mankind's chemical problems". The result was proteins that catalyze chemical reactions used to manufacture everything from renewable fuels for an eco-friendly transport sector to efficient pharmaceuticals.

Frances Arnold and George Smith of the USA and Gregory Winter of the United Kingdom won the 2018 prize for work that showed scientists and drug developers how to force proteins to evolve.

"It is also a personal delight to see Dr Strickland break the 55-year hiatus since a woman has been awarded a Nobel Prize in physics", Moloney said.

"In the lab, she's speeding up [evolution] by shuffling genes artificially - and doing it smartly she hopes - by figuring out which elements have a fighting chance of producing proteins that actually work and maybe even do something useful", wrote NPR's Scott Hensley.

This year's other honorees-Smith and Winter-have both made significant contributions to the phage display method, which finds a bacteria-infecting virus known as a bacteriophage employed in the evolution of new proteins. Virtually all of them build on what went on before.

Irene Joliot-Curie, a French scientist, won the prize in 1935 with her husband, Frédéric Joliot, "in recognition of their synthesis of new radioactive elements". This year's Nobel laureates have taken the next step. Arnold is only the fifth woman to be awarded the prize for Chemistry. "I think it's fantastic", says Joanne Cole, a particle physicist at Brunel University London in the UK. "The coutnry has a certain attraction, particularly for scientists", she said.

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, a British chemist, won in 1964 "for her determinations by X-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical substances", according to the Nobel website.

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Chemistry is the third of this year's Nobels and comes after the prizes for Medicine and Physics were awarded earlier this week.

"We don't have anything specifically but I do think we want to celebrate as much as we can in any way we can these types of successes", Cartwright said. When an antibody, or Y-shaped protein, is added to the mix, it binds to the peptide.

In 1986, Arnold set up her own lab at Caltech, where she initiated her work on directed evolution of enzymes, and soon was appointed an assistant professor. The Board of Curators appointed him a Curators Distinguished Professor in 2000, and he became a professor emeritus in 2015.

The first pharmaceutical based on Sir Gregory's work was approved for use in 2002 and is employed to treat rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel diseases, the academy said.

The next Nobel, the Peace Prize, will be announced on Friday.

The winners will each receive a share of the SEK9 million (£771,000) prize, and will go to Stockholm to receive their prize medals from the King of Sweden at a ceremony on 10 December. This prestigious worldwide award, which is annually awarded for outstanding scientific research, revolutionary invention or contribution to culture or society.

The Nobel Prize laureates for Medicine or Physiology 2018 are James P. Allison, U.S. and Tasuku Honjo, Japan presented at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, on October 1, 2018. The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, honouring Alfred Nobel, the man who endowed the five Nobel Prizes, will be revealed on Monday.

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