Monday, 10 December, 2018

Frances H Arnold and biotech game-changers share Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Frances H Arnold, George P Smith, Sir Gregory P Winter win 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2018 Nobel Prize in chemistry goes to Americans Frances Arnold and George Smith and Britain's Gregory Winter
Doris Mccormick | 05 October, 2018, 20:57

After just a few cycles of this test tube evolution, an enzyme can become a couple thousand times more effective, according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

MARTIN: NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce is here to tell us about the winners.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: Not in Swedish.

The three recipients announced Wednesday bring to 181 laureates the number who have won the chemistry prize since its inception in 1901.

HEIKKI SAUKKOMAA via Getty Images Biochemical engineer Frances Arnold, after receiving the Millennium Technology Prize in 2016.

Arnold focused on solar energy research while she was an undergraduate at Princeton, and shifted to biochemistry in graduate school.

She shared this year's chemistry Nobel - worth close to $1 million - with George P. Smith, 77, and Gregory P. Winter, 67.

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

"I predict we will see many more Nobel chemistry prizes for women", said Arnold. Many scientists were working on engineering proteins (molecular machines) through their genetic code, but Arnold made a decision to try a different approach: using evolution. And so she realized the thing to do was to use randomness. And then you could screen those to pick the best one for whatever objective you had. Again, either of the three could have won the Prize for Physiology or Medicine. Sir Gregory P. Winter was born in 1951 in Leicester, in the United Kingdom.

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"This award, in my opinion, celebrates and validates the impact of basic research, especially research that is interdisciplinary in its focus", said Pat Okker, dean of the College of Arts and Science, where Smith did his work. Winter introduced mutations to make antibodies progressively better at binding to their targets.

Smith pioneered a method known as phage display that allows researchers to find other molecules that interact with the protein on the phage.

The council is made up of 25 scientists from the United Kingdom and Israel, and says that its central goal is "to improve science collaboration between the two countries".

"I realized that the way most people were going about protein engineering was doomed failure", Arnold said.

Her process has since been refined and used by herself and others to create more environmentally safe chemicals and renewable fuels. Strickland and Mourou pioneered a way of producing extremely short, very intense pulses of light - which, apart from other applications, is used for laser eye surgery.

"Medicines based on Sir Greg's discovery have transformed the lives of patients around the world". I mean, the first medicine was approved in 2002, and it targets rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. Newly created antibodies can make some poisonous substances safe, fight autoimmune diseases and even cure some forms of cancer. They were the wish of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who established the organization that provides money for the prizes. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analyses from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Yeah. There's a question about whether it's keeping up with modern times.

Arnold is the first Princeton alumna (female graduate of either the undergraduate program or the Graduate School) to win a Nobel Prize, and the second woman associated with the University to win a Nobel Prize; the first was Toni Morrison, Princeton's Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities, Emerita, who won the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature.

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