Nobel Prize in chemistry awarded to 'power of evolution'

06 October, 2018, 16:31 | Author: Tara Reeves
  • 2018 Nobel Prize in chemistry goes to Americans Frances Arnold and George Smith and Britain's Gregory Winter

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced that it has made a decision to award the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with one half to Frances Arnold for the directed evolution of enzymes and the other half jointly to George Smith and Gregory Winter for the phage display of peptides and antibodies.

Arnold, who is 62 years old, joins four other women who have won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

The researchers have "taken control of evolution and used it for purposes that bring the greatest benefit to humankind", the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said Wednesday in a statement.

Life on Earth exists because over the past 3.7 billion years organisms have adapted to their environment, with evolution solving complex chemical problems: fish can for example swim in polar oceans because they have antifreeze proteins in their blood.

Smith and Winter were awarded for their work with bacteriophages, the viruses that feast on bacteria. This technique uses bacteria-infecting viruses to drive the evolution of new proteins and antibodies.

"The way most people were going about protein engineering was doomed to failure", she said.

This year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to three scientists for using the power of evolution to design molecules with a range of practical uses. And including antibodies - that's what Gregory Winter did.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first of these drugs in 2002. It is a popular way to treat rheumatoid arthritis, some skin diseases and inflammatory bowel diseases.

Sold as Humira in the USA and under other brand names elsewhere, it brought AbbVie $18.4 billion in revenue past year, in part because of its price: about $5,000 a month without insurance coverage in the U.S. "Since then, phage display has produced anti-bodies that can neutralise toxins, counteract autoimmune diseases and cure metastatic cancer". In Arnold's experiments, these advantageous traits equate to mutated enzymes that exhibit high levels of efficiency and can replace strong solvents, heavy metals and corrosive acids in the production of pharmaceuticals, plastics and other chemicals.

Arnold first tested her method of what has been called "directed evolution" in 1993. Arnold devised methods for reshuffling the genes that make enzymes, and then seeing which new recipes produced promising effects. How do you get a whole new chemical activity that you don't know already existed? It contained a combination of 10 mutations that nobody could have predicted would work so well, the Swedish academy said.

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The academy described the process as being similar to biological evolution. Her tailored enzymes have become important for making medications and other valuable substances like renewable fuels. She earned her PhD in 1985 from the University of California, Berkeley.

St. Louis Public Radio's Eli Chen spoke to George Smith, emeritus professor of biology at University of Missouri, about what it means for him to win the Nobel Prize in chemistry. Others now commonly use it to create new enzymes. Marie Curie remains the only woman to have won two Nobel prizes and the only person to be a laureate in two different sciences.

A British scientist whose work led to a new generation of advanced antibody drugs has told of his "shock" at hearing he had won a Nobel Prize.

"Very few research breakthroughs are novel".

The head of the American Institute of Physics said the work of Mr Mourou and Ms Strickland enabled new studies of matter by allowing scientists to produce more powerful bursts of laser light.

He said he learned of the prize in a pre-dawn phone call from Stockholm. It directly led to the power of monoclonal antibodies being harnessed for treatment of disease. "Her work is incredible".

Winter applied the phage display technique to create pharmaceutical antibodies.

- The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science will be announced Monday in Sweden.

On Tuesday (October 2), the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences chose to award the Nobel Prize in Physics 2018 to Arthur Ashkin, Gerard Mourou and Donna Strickland. He worked for the university for 40 years and retired in 2015.

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