Nobel Chemistry Prize awarded to Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Michael Henderson

Alan Olson
October 5, 2017

Today, three scientists have been awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for their work developing a new method to image biomolecules, including viruses like Zika, in incredibly high resolution.

Joachim Frank, who shares this year's Nobel Chemistry Prize with two other researchers for developing a method to generate three-dimensional images of the molecules of life, says the potential use of the method is "immense".

The body said the development was "decisive for both the basic understanding of life's chemistry and for the development of pharmaceuticals". The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences used the example of the deadly Zika virus to illustrate just how far-reaching their contrubution could be.

In case you've not been following, this week has seen the announcements of the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physics on Monday and Tuesday respectively. Due to their work, electron microscopes are now able to visualise proteins at atomic resolution.

Henderson, a professor at the Molecular Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Biology in the United Kingdom, produced the first high-resolution model of a protein, bacteriorhodopsin, using electron cryo-microscopy (cryo-EM) in 1990. Because molecules are flash-frozen, they are caught in a variety of states, allowing researchers to assemble these pictures into movies that recreate their motion. Further advances have brought cryo-EM within reach of resolving single atoms, rivalling x-ray crystallography. Typically, in an electron microscope, water will cause biomolecules to collapse.

Dubochet added the use of water.

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They developed a technique called cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), which simplifies the process for looking at the machinery of life.

Frederick Sanger has been the only Nobel laureate who has won the prize for chemistry twice.

Swiss-born Jacques Dubochet managed to cool water so rapidly that it solidified around a biological sample, allowing its natural shape to be preserved.

Dubochet earned a doctoral degree in 1973 at the University of Geneva and University of Basel and became an honorary professor of biophysics at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland.

Speaking of his childhood fear of darkness and scientific curiosity, Dubochet said in an earlier interview: "It was important for me to face my fears and understand the frightening things".

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