Nobel Prize in Chemistry goes to trio of evolutionary scientists

Frances Arnold, George Smith and Gregory Winter will get the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2018.


Niklas Elmehed/Nobel Assembly

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2018 was jointly awarded Wednesday to three people who’ve used the power of evolution “to develop proteins that solve mankind’s chemical problems.”

Frances H. Arnold, from California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, will get half of the $1.01 million prize for “the directed evolution of enzymes”

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.

All three “have taken control of evolution,” using the principles of genetic change and selection to create proteins, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences wrote in its announcement.

Arnold made the first enzymes — proteins that catalyse chemical reactions — through directed evolution, and they’ve been used in the production ranging from biofuels to pharmaceuticals.

She’s the fifth woman to receive the chemistry prize, and follows Ada E Yonath in 2009, according to The Guardian.

Smith developed phage display, where a bacteriophage (a virus that infects bacteria) is used to evolve new proteins. Winter used the process to make new pharmaceuticals, and it’s made “antibodies that can neutralise toxins, counteract autoimmune diseases and cure metastatic cancer.”

The first drug based on this work is used to fight rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disease, the Associated Press reported, citing the academy.

The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics went to laser physics inventors Arthur Ashkin, Gerard Mourou and Donna Strickland on Tuesday, while the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo on Monday, for their breakthrough in cancer research.

The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday. This year’s Nobel Prize in Literature has been postponed.


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