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2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry Showcases the Evolution of Enzymes

This year, the Noble Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Frances H. Arnold, George P. Smith and Sir Gregory P. Winter. Half of the prize goes to Arnold, from the California Institute of Technology, for her work on directing the evolution of enzymes (proteins that speed up chemical reactions). The other half of the award goes to Winter and Smith for their work on “phage display of peptides and antibodies.”

The three scientists will share the 9 million Swedish kronor ($1,000,000) prize, awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The three scientists worked to produce a new class of proteins which can be used in medical treatments and drugs.

“This year’s prize awards a revolution based on evolution and goes to scientists who applied the principles of Darwin in the test tube,” stated the Royal Swedish Academy.

Works Of Laureates

Frances H.Arnold

She was recognized for performing the first-ever directed evolution of enzymes to check if these proteins could work differently when manipulated. She directed an enzyme’s evolution by introducing genetic mutations to create multiple varieties of a selected enzyme. She then checked the effect each mutation had and choose the variants that could prove to be useful, such as one that could operate in a solvent, rather than a water-based environment. Now her methods are used to prepare new varieties of enzymes. The uses of Frances Arnold’s enzymes include more environmentally friendly manufacturing of chemical substances, such as pharmaceuticals, and the production of renewable fuels for a greener transport sector.
On Oct. 3, 2018, she became the fifth woman ever to have won the prize in chemistry, following Ada Yonath in 2009, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin in 1964, Irène Joliot-Curie in 1935, and her mother, Marie Curie, in 1911.

Sir Gregory P. Winter

Professor Winter, the Master of Trinity College, is a genetic engineer and is best known for his research and inventions relating to humanized and human therapeutic antibodies. Sir Gregory is a graduate of Trinity College and was a Senior Research Fellow before becoming Master. His research career has been based almost entirely in Cambridge at the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology and the Centre for Protein Engineering. Professor Winter becomes the 107th Affiliate of Cambridge to be awarded a Nobel Prize.

“It came as a bit of a shock, and I felt a bit numb for a while. It’s almost like you’re in a different universe,” said Professor Winter, on hearing he had been jointly awarded the Prize.

“For a scientist, a Nobel Prize is the highest accolade you can get, and I’m so lucky because there are so many brilliant scientists and not enough Nobel Prizes to go around.”

Gregory Winter used phage display for the directed evolution of antibodies, with the aim of producing new pharmaceuticals. The first one based on this method, adalimumab, was approved in 2002 and is used for rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel diseases. Since then, phage display has produced antibodies that can neutralise toxins, counteract autoimmune diseases and cure metastatic cancer.

George P. Smith

He earned his AB from Haverford College in biology, was a high school teacher and lab technician for a year, and earned his PhD in bacteriology and immunology from Harvard University. He is best known for phage displays, a technique where a specific protein’s genetic code is artificially inserted into a bacterophage’s coat protein gene, causing the protein to displayed on the outside of the bacteriophage. Smith first described the technique in 1985 when he displayed peptides on filamentous phage by fusing the peptide of interest onto gene III of filamentous phage.

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