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Trio win Nobel Chemistry Prize for evolution research

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US scientists Frances Arnold and George Smith and British researcher Gregory Winter have won the 2018 Nobel Chemistry Prize

US scientists Frances Arnold and George Smith and British researcher Gregory Winter won the Nobel Chemistry Prize on Wednesday for applying the principles of evolution to develop enzymes used to make everything from biofuels to pharmaceuticals, the jury said.

Arnold, just the fifth woman to win the Nobel Chemistry Prize, won one half of the nine million Swedish kronor (about $1.01 million or 870,000 euros) award, while Smith and Winter shared the other half.

“The 2018 Nobel Laureates in Chemistry have taken control of evolution and used it for purposes that bring the greatest benefit to humankind,” the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences said.

The trio used the same principles of evolution—genetic change and selection—to develop proteins used in a range of fields.

“They have applied the principles of Darwin in test tubes. They have used the molecular understanding we have of the evolutionary process and recreated the process in their labs,” the head of the Academy’s Nobel Chemistry committee, Claes Gustafsson, told reporters.

“They have been able to make evolution many 1000s of times faster and redirect it to create new proteins.”

Arnold, 62, is a professor of chemical engineering at the California Institute of Technology. Her work has made it possible to solve problems such as replacing toxic chemicals like fossil fuels.

Her method of creating new proteins with desired properties is being used to convert renewable resources like sugar cane into biofuels, and to make more environmentally friendly chemical substances, improving everyday products such as laundry and dishwashing detergents to enhance their performance in cold temperatures.

Smith, of the University of Missouri, and Winter, 67, of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge, meanwhile developed an “elegant method” known as phage display, where a bacteriophage—a virus that infects bacteria—can be used to evolve new proteins, the jury said.

Pharmaceuticals for rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel diseases have resulted from their research, as well as anti-bodies that can neutralise toxins, counteract autoimmune diseases and cure metastatic cancer.


The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announcement:

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2018

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2018

with one half to

Frances H. Arnold, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, USA

“for the directed evolution of enzymes”

and the other half jointly to

George P. Smith, University of Missouri, Columbia, USA

Sir Gregory P. Winter, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK

“for the phage display of peptides and antibodies”

They harnessed the power of evolution

The power of evolution is revealed through the diversity of life. The 2018 Nobel Laureates in Chemistry have taken control of evolution and used it for purposes that bring the greatest benefit to humankind. Enzymes produced through directed evolution are used to manufacture everything from biofuels to pharmaceuticals. Antibodies evolved using a method called phage display can combat autoimmune diseases and in some cases cure metastatic cancer. Since the first seeds of life arose around 3.7 billion years ago, almost every crevice on Earth has filled with different organisms. Life has spread to hot springs, deep oceans and dry deserts, all because evolution has solved a number of chemical problems. Life’s chemical tools – proteins – have been optimised, changed and renewed, creating incredible diversity.

This year’s Nobel Laureates in Chemistry have been inspired by the power of evolution and used the same principles – genetic change and selection – to develop proteins that solve mankind’s chemical problems.

One half of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded to Frances H. Arnold. In 1993, she conducted the first directed evolution of enzymes, which are proteins that catalyse chemical reactions. Since then, she has refined the methods that are now routinely used to develop new catalysts. The uses of Frances Arnold’s enzymes include more environmentally friendly manufacturing of chemical substances, such as pharmaceuticals, and the production of renewable fuels for a greener transport sector.

The other half of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry is shared by George P. Smith and Sir Gregory P. Winter. 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. Gregory Winter used phage display for the directed evolution of antibodies, with the aim of producing new pharmaceuticals. The first one based on this method, adalimumab, was approved in 2002 and is used for rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel diseases. Since then, phage display has produced antibodies that can neutralise toxins, counteract autoimmune diseases and cure metastatic cancer.

We are in the early days of directed ‘s revolution which, in many different ways, is bringing and will bring the greatest benefit to humankind.


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