Published: Thu, October 05, 2017
IT | By Amos Hawkins

Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded to cryo-electron microscopy developers

Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded to cryo-electron microscopy developers

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2017 has been awarded to three researchers, Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank & Richard Henderson, for their work on imaging the molecules of life.

Frank, based at New York's Columbia University, shares the prize with Jacques Dubochet of the University of Lausanne and Richard Henderson of MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, Britain.

STOCKHOLM, Oct. 4 (Xinhua) - Three scientists have shared 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced on Wednesday.

Through this method, researchers can now "stop" biomolecules in motion and "to visualize the process, which they've never seen before".

A cryo-electron microscopy image of the Zika virus structure.

The prizes are named after Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, and have been awarded since 1901 for achievements in science, literature and peace, in accordance with his will.

The detailed images may pave the way for developing new medicines, vaccines and industrial chemicals, but experts said such payoffs are largely in the future.

Why it matters: Cryo-electron microscopy is like a polaroid camera.

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With the new method, biomolecules, including bacteria and viruses (like the Zika virus), can be frozen mid-movement to observe how they act and interact.

US -based Thermo Fisher Scientific is a leading supplier of cryo-electron microscopy instruments.

During the same decade, Frank, of Columbia University in NY, and his colleagues developed image-processing software to make sense of the fuzzy images that are produced when an electron microscope is aimed at a protein, and to convert these two-dimensional blurs into 3D molecular structures.

Henderson showed in the early 1970s that a protein called bacteriorhodopsin can be studied under an electron microscope if the molecules are naturally bound within a biological membrane.

"Soon there are no more secrets", she said.

"To give one example, past year the 3D structure of the enzyme producing the amyloid (protein) of Alzheimer's disease was published using this technology", Hardy said. The technology delivers an unprecedented look at life at the atomic scale, providing us with accurate models of everything from viruses to antibodies.

"Jacques Dubochet added water to electron microscopy". "This breakthrough proved the technology's potential", the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences says in a press release.

The trio was presented with the prize money of 9 million Swedish crowns ($1.1 million) which will be split into three equals.

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