Chemistry Nobel prize awarded to pioneers of directed evolution

Half of the 9-million-kronor ($1.01m) prize was designated for Frances Arnold of Caltech in Pasadena for conducting the first directed evolution of enzymes, leading to more environment friendly manufacturing of chemicals, including drugs, and in the production of renewable fuels.

"Once oil prices had dropped, there was no future in biofuels, and Reagan basically killed all the research funding for it", said Harvey Blanch, Arnold's Ph.D. adviser and a professor emeritus of chemical and biomolecular engineering. Her work has been effective in cutting out the use of toxic catalysts. The other half will go jointly to the American George Smith from the University of Missouri, US, and the Brit Gregory Winter from the MRC lab in Cambridge, UK. These enzymes can be used in chemical processes that produce medicines.

Douglas Kell, a professor of bioanalytical science at the University of Manchester, says the prize is "fantastic news". Winter was one of the leaders in using phage display to develop new biomolecules, including disease-blocking antibodies. It is a popular way to treat rheumatoid arthritis, some skin diseases and inflammatory bowel diseases.

Chemistry is the third of this year's Nobel Prizes.

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Carol Robinson, president of Britain's Royal Society of Chemistry, says the prize shows how chemistry contributes "to many areas of our lives including pharmaceuticals, detergents, green catalysis and biofuels".

The Guardian's Nicola Davis reports that Arnold's directed evolution of enzymes (proteins that catalyze, or accelerate, chemical reactions) essentially boils down to the introduction of genetic mutations that allow enzymes to perform more efficiently or in ways that they normally wouldn't.

In an interview with the Tribune, Smith described his work as "a way of evolution in the test tube".

Smith and Winter also managed to use evolution to the advantage of humankind by developing a technique called phage display. "Since then, phage display has produced anti-bodies that can neutralise toxins, counteract autoimmune diseases and cure metastatic cancer". "It's happenstance. That was certainly the case with my work", he told the AP.

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The American scientist and engineer becomes only the fifth woman ever to have won the prize, following Ada Yonath in 2009, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin in 1964, Irène Joliot-Curie in 1935, and her mother, Marie Curie, in 1911. Many other antibodies created in this way are now in clinical trials, such as those developed to fight Alzheimer's disease, according to the Academy.

Editor's Note: Dr. Smith is the father of one of our recent newsroom employees, Bram Sable-Smith.

Within a year of receiving King Faisal Prize for his outstanding research into the body's n atural defenses against cancer, the USA immunologist Professor James P. Allison has been named the victor of this year's Nobel Prize in Medicine for his pioneering approach to cancer treatment.

In becoming the first women Nobel physics laureate in 55 years, Strickland won acclaim from her peers, who were keen to point out the boundary-pushing work done by female scientists across the world. On Monday, James Allison and Tasuku Honjo won the 2018 medicine Nobel for their work on harnessing the immune system to combat cancer, and on Tuesday the physics prize was shared between Arthur Ashkin, Gerard Mourou and Donna Strickland for their work on laser physics.

Trio win Nobel Chemistry Prize for research harnessing evolution
Chemistry is the third of this year's Nobels and comes after the prizes for Medicine and Physics were awarded earlier this week. Smith was born in 1941 in Norwalk, Connecticut, and he's now at the University of Missouri, in Columbia, in the United States.

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