January 19, 2018

Scottish scientist shares Nobel prize for pioneering work on molecules

05 October 2017, 12:22 | Rodolfo Wallace

The 2017 Nobel prize in chemistry to be announced – live

Nobel chemistry prize awarded for molecular machines which repair damaged DNA

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awarded the 9 million Swedish crown ($1.1 million) prize, said the technology had moved biochemistry into a new era.

The technique allows scientists to freeze biomolecules in action and "visualise processes they have never previously seen", according to the Nobel statement. This keeps the molecules wet and stops water from evaporating into the vacuum.

Cryo-electron microscopy, the academy explained is "a cool method for imaging the molecules of life". Known as cryo-electron microscopy, it allows researchers to study the structure of biomolecules in high resolution without damaging them for the first time in history. This technique, which is still in use today, permitted cryo-electron microscopy on DNA, viruses and other biospecimens sitting in pure water.

72-year-old Richard Henderson, born in Scotland, is a programme leader at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK.

The electron microscope has been around for a while-there were prototypes as early as 1931-but it had serious limitations for biologists.

Joachim Frank's strategy built upon having a computer discriminate between the traces of randomly positioned proteins and their background in a fuzzy electron microscope image.

The prizes are named after Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, and have been awarded since 1901 for achievements in science, literature and peace, in accordance with his will.

Dubochet, 75, is a Swiss biophysicist who now conducts his research at University of Lausanne in Lausanne, Switzerland.

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Also in 1975, Joachim Frank prepared a theoretical strategy to merge together whatever information is carried in the two-dimensional images from a electron microscope, to generate a high-resolution three-dimensional whole.

Ordinary electron microscopy makes biomolecules, which contain water, collapse.

The president of the American Chemical Society says the microscope imaging technique honored by this year's Nobel Chemistry Prize is like Google Earth for molecules.

"To give one example, past year the 3D structure of the enzyme producing the amyloid (protein) of Alzheimer's disease was published using this technology", Hardy said.

Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson discusses the award with Eva Nogales, a professor of biochemistry, biophysics and structural biology at the University of California Berkeley.

"Knowing this structure opens up the possibility of rational drug design in this area", Hardy said.

He said he hasn't yet thought about what to do with the prize money, but added: "I was telling my wife that we don't have to worry about a dog sitter anymore".

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