Chemistry Nobel for ice microscopes that show molecules of life

Friday, 06 Oct, 2017

Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, said: 'I warmly congratulate Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson on their achievement. The prestigious award was given to three persons namely Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson.

They are given an important contribution to the cryo-electron microscopy to determine high-resolution of biomolecules. The awarding brings a 9 million Swedish crown ($1.1 million) prize.

Committee chair Sara Snogerup Linse explained: "Soon, there are no more secrets, now, we can see the intricate details of the biomolecules in every corner of our cells and every drop of our body fluids".

Indeed, cryo-electron microscopy is already delivering results, such as the recent discovery of the structure of tau protein filaments in Alzheimer's disease. Today, researchers routinely snap 3D images of biomolecules.

"By solving more and more structures at the atomic level we can answer biological questions, such as how drugs get into cells, that were simply unanswerable a few years ago", said Jim Smith, director of science at Britain's Wellcome Trust.

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. This has proved crucial for numerous areas of research, for example, enabling scientists to obtain images of the Zika virus and to visualise proteins that cause antibiotic resistance.

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By freezing biomolecules mid-movement, scientists can unravel previously unseen processes - a major advance both for basic understanding and the potential development of new drugs.

Jacques Dubochet added the presence of water to electron microscopy.

Electron microscopy refers to the act of sending a beam of electrons at a small sample of a material. It was recently used to reveal the structure of the Zika virus. Henderson succeeded in 1975 to work around the limitations of electron microscopy, by using weaker beams through the molecules and essentially filling in the gaps in the image by completing the regular pattern assumed by the protein, according to the Nobel committee.

Microscopes allow scientists to look at structures that can not be seen with the naked eye - but when these structures are very tiny, it is no longer possible to use rays of light to do the job because their wavelengths are not short enough.

Speaking to reporters in Cambridge, England, Henderson also said he felt "the three of us have been awarded the prize acting on behalf of the entire field".

Joachim Frank, from Germany, made the microscope technology more easy to apply in a general setting by processing images of the molecules in such a way that fuzzy two-dimensional images were turned into sharp, 3-D structures. The benchmark for excellence in the domain of science is the Nobel Prize which is awarded for innovative ventures in Science and this time no exception.