Nobel Prize in Chemistry shared by 3 for views of human cells working at the atomic level
Poriborton Desk 5:12 pm, October 04, 2017
The 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to researchers Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank, and Richard Henderson, for their work that developed cryo-electron microscopy, which the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences says "both simplifies and improves the imaging of biomolecules," reports NPR.
Speaking to the prize committee by phone Wednesday morning, Joachim Frank said he had thought the chance of him winning the prestigious honor was "miniscule."
He added that cryo-electron miscropy "is about to completely transform structural biology," noting that the technology is being taken up by a new generation of medical researchers.
The academy adds that the advance "has moved biochemistry into a new era" and provided new ways of seeing complex operations that take place within human cells at a never-before-seen level of resolution.
Dubochet is affiliated with the University of Lausanne, in Switzerland; Joachim Frank is affiliated with Columbia University in New York; Richard Henderson is affiliated with the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, U.K.
Here's how the Academy describes their accomplishments:
"Electron microscopes were long believed to only be suitable for imaging dead matter, because the powerful electron beam destroys biological material. But in 1990, Richard Henderson succeeded in using an electron microscope to generate a three-dimensional image of a protein at atomic resolution. This breakthrough proved the technology's potential.
"Joachim Frank made the technology generally applicable. Between 1975 and 1986 he developed an image processing method in which the electron microscope's fuzzy twodimensional images are analysed and merged to reveal a sharp three-dimensional structure.
"Jacques Dubochet added water to electron microscopy. Liquid water evaporates in the electron microscope's vacuum, which makes the biomolecules collapse. In the early 1980s, Dubochet succeeded in vitrifying water – he cooled water so rapidly that it solidified in its liquid form around a biological sample, allowing the biomolecules to retain their natural shape even in a vacuum."
With the award, seven Americans have now been honored among the nine researchers who have been recognized so far in the 2017 Nobel season. Toward the end of Wednesday's event, a journalist asked Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences Secretary General Göran K. Hansson about the prevalence of Americans.
In his reply, Hansson noted that since World War II, the U.S. has "allowed scientists to perform fundamental research" and focus on large-scale projects that might not have immediate impact or applications. He added that they have also been able to do so largely without political pressure.
Last year's chemistry Nobel also went to small-scale work, honoring three scientists who worked to construct molecular machines — including the first molecular motor.
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