January 17, 2019

Chemistry Nobel Awarded to Biologists for Taking the Reins on Evolution

03 October 2018, 04:39 | Silvia Roy

In this May 24, 2016 file photo, United States biochemical engineer Frances Arnold receives the Millennium Technology Prize 2016 during the awards ceremony in Helsinki, Finland.

"This year's Nobel Laureates in Chemistry have been inspired by the power of evolution and used the same principles - genetic change and selection - to develop proteins that solve mankind's chemical problems", the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement on awarding the 9 million Swedish crown ($1 million) prize, Reuters reported.

"It's a standard joke that someone with a Swedish accent calls and says 'You won!' But there was so much static on the line, I knew it wasn't any of my friends", he said.

Three scientists - two from the USA and one from Britain - share the 2018 Nobel Prize for Chemistry on Wednesday for harnessing the power of evolution to produce novel proteins used in everything from environmentally friendly detergents and biofuels to cancer drugs.

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The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which chose the winners on Wednesday, said Arnold conducted the first directed evolution of enzymes, whose uses include "more environmentally friendly manufacturing of chemical substances such as pharmaceuticals and the production of renewable fuels".

The other half will be jointly split between George Smith from the University of Missouri, US and Gregory Winter from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in the United Kingdom who developed a technique called phage display.

The other half will jointly go to George P. Smith, of the University of Missouri, and Gregory P. Winter, from Cambridge University, for their work in evolving new proteins.

The first pharmaceutical created using this method was adalimumab, approved for use in 2002, which is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel diseases. Smith realised that this could be handy: for example if it wasn't known what protein a particular gene gave rise to, it could be put into a phage and the mystery protein would appear on the surface and could be identified.

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Alan Boyd, president of Britain's Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine, hailed the award.

Dr. Arnold and Dr. Smith are both American, while Dr. No literature prize will be awarded this year, but the Swedish Academy that awards the prestigious prize is still in the limelight.

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