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Nobel Laureates in Chemistry 2018 Harness Power of Evolution

| Editor: Alexander Stark

This year’s Nobel Laureates in Chemistry have been inspired by the power of evolution and used the same principles – genetic change and selection – to develop proteins that solve mankind’s chemical problems.
This year’s Nobel Laureates in Chemistry have been inspired by the power of evolution and used the same principles – genetic change and selection – to develop proteins that solve mankind’s chemical problems. (Source: Pixabay / CC0)

The 2018 Nobel Laureates in Chemistry have taken control of evolution and used the same principles — genetic change and selection — to develop proteins that solve mankind’s chemical problems.

Oslo/Sweden — The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2018 is awarded to Frances H. Arnold, George P. Smith and Sir Gregory P. Winter for the way they have taken control of evolution. Enzymes developed through directed evolution are now used to produce biofuels and pharmaceuticals, among other things. Antibodies evolved using a method called phage display can combat autoimmune diseases and, in some cases, cure metastatic cancer.

One half of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded to Frances H. Arnold. In 1993, she conducted the first directed evolution of enzymes, which are proteins that catalyse chemical reactions. Since then, she has refined the methods that are now routinely used to develop new catalysts. The uses of Frances Arnold’s enzymes include more environmentally friendly manufacturing of chemical substances, such as pharmaceuticals, and the production of renewable fuels for a greener transport sector.

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The other half of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry is shared by George P. Smith and Sir Gregory P. Winter. In 1985, George Smith developed an elegant method known as phage display, where a bacteriophage – a virus that infects bacteria – can be used to evolve new proteins. Gregory Winter used phage display for the directed evolution of antibodies, with the aim of producing new pharmaceuticals. The first one based on this method, adalimumab, was approved in 2002 and is used for rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel diseases. Since then, phage display has produced anti-bodies that can neutralise toxins, counteract autoimmune diseases and cure metastatic cancer.

Scientific Background

The Laureates:

Frances H. Arnold, born 1956 in Pittsburgh, USA. Ph.D. 1985, University of California, Berkeley, USA. Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, USA.

George P. Smith, born 1941 in Norwalk, USA. Ph.D. 1970, Harvard University, Cambridge, USA. Curators’ Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia, USA.

Sir Gregory P. Winter, born 1951 in Leicester, UK. Ph.D. 1976. University of Cambridge, UK. Research Leader Emeritus, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK.

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