Published: Thu, October 04, 2018
Medical | By Vicki Mclaughlin

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

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

The methods developed by the laureates have been put to work to create new enzymes and antibodies used in promoting a greener chemicals industry, mitigating disease and saving lives.

After obtaining her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from Princeton in 1979, Arnold worked briefly in Golden, Colorado, at the Solar Energy Research Institute - now the National Renewable Energy Laboratory - before enrolling in Berkeley's chemical engineering department to work with Blanch on biofuels. This process works by first introducing random mutations or changes into an enzyme's genes. She conducted the first directed evolution of enzymes, which are proteins that catalyze chemical reactions.

Arnold is only the fifth woman to win the prize in its 117-year history.

Dr Smith developed a technique known as phage display, in which a bacteriophage - a virus that infects bacteria - can be used to evolve new proteins. It is a popular way to treat rheumatoid arthritis, some skin diseases and inflammatory bowel diseases.

The Nobel Prize in Literature has been postponed because of the institution that chooses the laureate being embroiled in a sexual assault scandal.

"The Nobel Prize goes to me but it's really a team of brilliant people who love what they do", she said.

Alfred Nobel, who created the prizes in his will, was himself a chemist, and devised his famed awards in part to atone for inventing dynamite.

"So if you can harness enzymes for your own purposes, this is often more environmentally friendly than using heavy metals or toxic substances to make your chemicals", said Johan Aqvist, a member of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.

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"She has truly made a big difference by finding out how to apply directed evolution to microorganisms", said Athanassios Panagiotopoulos, the Susan Dod Brown Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Princeton and chair of the department.

"In the lab, she's speeding up [evolution] by shuffling genes artificially - and doing it smartly she hopes - by figuring out which elements have a fighting chance of producing proteins that actually work and maybe even do something useful", wrote NPR's Scott Hensley.

"I'm bouncing off the walls but I'm trying to pretend to sound calm and collected", she told the Nobel Foundation in an interview, adding she was "annoyed" she couldn't reach her sons to give them the news. "It's happenstance. That was certainly the case with my work", he said Wednesday.

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

Douglas Kell, a professor of bioanalytical science at the University of Manchester, says the prize is "fantastic news".

He built up a collection of phages, with billions of antibody varieties on their surface, and engineered them make them more effective. On Monday, James Allison, who spent three years as a postdoctoral fellow at Scripps Research in La Jolla, won the Nobel in physiology or medicine for his work in fighting cancer.

Strickland won the 2018 Nobel Prize for Physics for breakthroughs in the field of lasers on Tuesday alongside French scientist Gerard Mourou.

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