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

06 October, 2018, 16:28 | Author: Dwayne Harmon
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Three scientists won the Nobel Prize in chemistry Wednesday for using a sped-up version of evolution to create new proteins that have led to a bestselling drug and other products.

Sir Gregory Winter, Master of Trinity College Cambridge and formerly deputy director of the Medical Research Council's laboratory of Molecular Biology, shares the prize with Frances Arnold of Caltech and George P Smith of the University of Wisconsin.

Arnold's breakthrough research began in 1993 when she conducted the first directed evolution of enzymes, the proteins that catalyse chemical reactions.

The first such drug created from this method, adalimumab, was approved in 2002 and is now used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel diseases, according to a statement.

The other half will be jointly split between George Smith from the University of Missouri, US and Gregory Winter from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in the United Kingdom who developed a technique called phage display. British biochemist Winter used phage display to produce new pharmaceuticals.

The 9-million-kronor ($1.01 million) chemistry prize is the last of this year's scientific Nobel Prizes. Many other antibodies created in this way are now in clinical trials, such as those developed to fight Alzheimer's disease, according to the Academy. Smith discovered the technique, genetically engineering bacteriophages by inserting unknown genes into their DNA that would express proteins on their surface, where the structure could be observed and analysed.

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

The Nobel Prize in chemistry went to three scientists who used directed evolution to make new proteins that are in biofuels and cancer drugs.

That was a record-breaking year for women, who took home five Nobel Prizes, coming up short only in peace and physics (Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider shared the award for medicine).

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"It would've been nice if I got the prize like 10 years ago so a whole bunch of grant proposals that didn't get funded probably would've gotten funded", Smith said.

"We needed a new way to create the peak power of laser pulses", said Michael Moloney, chief executive officer of the group.

After repeatedly screening and mutating those microbes, she could use them to build a more powerful version of a desired protein.

Arthur Ashkin became the oldest Nobel Prize laureate at 96, while Donna Strickland of the University of Waterloo in Canada became only the third woman to win a physics Nobel.

"I hope that my getting this prize will highlight the fact that, yes, women can do this, they can do it well and that they can make a contribution to the world and be recognized for it", Arnold said in an email.

The victor of the Nobel Peace Prize is to be announced on Friday.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce with the news of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

There are not very many incentives in faculty contracts for achievements like Nobel Prizes, especially when compared to sports coaches who can earn large payments for wining championships.

Earlier this week, two immunologists, James Allison of the USA and Tasuku Honjo of Japan, won the Nobel Medicine Prize for research into how the body's natural defences can fight cancer.

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