Nobel Prize in Chemistry Awarded for Cyro-Electrion Microscopy

Nobel Prize in Chemistry Awarded for Cyro-Electrion Microscopy

Lindsey Duncan
Октября 6, 2017

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced the award Wednesday along with its $1.1 million prize.

This is Jacques Dubochet, Switzerland, Joachim Frank, of the United States, and Richard Henderson, of the United Kingdom. Instead, beams of electrons can be used - with a technique known as transmission electron microscopy (TEM) - or scientists can employ a method known as x-ray crystallography in which x-rays are scattered as they pass through samples, creating patterns that can be analysed to reveal the structure of molecules.

The work of the three chemists will be important for the development of pharmaceutical products, according to the royal Academy of sciences of Sweden. They each take home a share of the SEK 9 million (EUR 945 000) award for their work with cryo-electron microscopy.

"We are facing a revolution in biochemistry", said Nobel Committee Chairman Sara Snogerup Linse during the announcement.

The electron microscope's every nut and bolt has been optimised since these discoveries.

As a result of the trio's combined efforts, researchers can now regularly produce 3-D images and structures of biomolecules, which has had an enormous impact on the field of medicine and medical research.

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Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, professor of mammalian development and stem cell biology at the University of Cambridge, said that she thought the win was wonderful.

Why the Swedish Nobel Committee thinks this year's Chemistry Prize is likely to have very big practical consequences.

Just three years after super-resolution fluorescence microscopy won the chemistry Nobel prize, another microscopy technique - cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) - has just been propelled into the limelight to win this year's chemistry prize. This has proved crucial for numerous areas of research, for example, enabling scientists to obtain images of the Zika virus and to visualise proteins that cause antibiotic resistance. Henderson, a Scottish scientist and professor at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, was the first to use the method to generate three-dimensional images of a protein at the atomic scale. So the duo turned to electron microscoy and, in 1975, they produced their first 3D model of the protein.

As the last piece in the puzzle, Jacques Dubochet found that he could successfully add water to an electron microscope by vitrifying it - flash freezing it so quickly that it solidified in its liquid form around a biological molecule, allowing it to retain its natural shape.

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 for Literature, Peace and Economics will be awarded in the coming days. Unlike normal microscopes, which use light, beams of electrons can illuminate the tiniest of details in a structure, down the location of individual atoms.

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