United Kingdom scientist among Nobel Prize winners for 3D molecule imaging

Posted October 05, 2017

N. ELMEHEDThe Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded this morning (October 4) to three scientists who developed cryo-electron microscopy, a method that allows scientists to freeze biomolecules and view them at atomic resolution.

'I thought the chances of winning a Nobel prize were miniscule, there are so many other innovations and discoveries, ' he said, speaking by phone to reporters at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Cryo-electron microscopy fundamentally changed biology and biochemistry, allowing scientists to create 3-D reconstructions of the biomolecular processes that support life.

Richard Henderson of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK, found a way to protect biomolecules by coating their surface with a glucose solution that stopped it from drying out in the vacuum.

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Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics on Tuesday.

This year's prize was awarded for developing a "cool method of imaging the molecules of life". In 1990, Henderson was able to use this technique to visualize a protein in 3D down to its atoms with an electron microscope.

Three researchers based in the USA, United Kingdom and Switzerland have won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developments in electron microscopy.

Previous techniques often required the use of dyes or fixatives to help see these molecules. Their work has aided in research of Zika virus, which causes brain-damage in newborns, The Guardianreported.

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"To give one example, a year ago the 3D structure of the enzyme producing the amyloid (protein) of Alzheimer's disease was published using this technology", Hardy said. If you want to study larger proteins, membrane-bound receptors, or complexes of several biomolecules together, cryo-EM is where it's at.

The Nobel Prize for Chemistry rewards researchers for major advances in studying the infinitesimal bits of material that are the building blocks of life.

His breakthrough was further developed by German-born scientist Frank, a USA citizen, while Dubochet of Switzerland used rapidly frozen water to preserve the natural shape of the biomolecules.

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.

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The award is worth nine million Swedish kronor (CHF1 million).