Microscope trailblazers win 2017 Nobel Chemistry Prize

Journalists reading up on their chemistry ahead of the announcement

Journalists reading up on their chemistry ahead of the announcement

Richard Henderson, Joachim Frank and Jacques Dubochet helped to develop cryo-electron microscopy.

"Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson have, through their research, brought 'the greatest benefit to (humankind).' Each corner of the cell can be captured in atomic detail and biochemistry is all set for an exciting future". At first the images produced, though useful, were somewhat shapeless - leading cryo-electron microscopy to be dubbed "blobology". The Royal Swedish Academy has already awarded prizes in physics and medicine. They each take home a share of the SEK 9 million (EUR 945 000) award for their work with cryo-electron microscopy.

Why do we need cryo-electron microscopy?

Researchers can now routinely produce three-dimensional structures of biomolecules. Though much of this work was done before then, he said joining Columbia was instrumental to meeting colleagues across departments and working with brilliant students who contributed pieces to this "immense puzzle".

Why the Swedish Nobel Committee thinks this year's Chemistry Prize is likely to have very big practical consequences.

Three scientists have won the Nobel Prize for chemistry for their work to simplify and improve the imaging of biomolecules. 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.

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.

"I am particularly pleased that Jacques Dubochet has been recognised as the key person who kick-started the field with his method of rapid-freezing in the early 1980s, a crucial advance". The Swedish academy noted that the technology was used to create three-dimensional images of the virus and its proteins at atomic resolution - "and researchers could start searching for potential targets for pharmaceuticals".

This development is "decisive for both the basic understanding of life's chemistry" and the development of drugs, the Nobel committee said.

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.

Richard Henderson abandoned X-ray crystallography and resorted to imaging proteins using transmission electron microscopy - in which, instead of light, a thin beam of electrons is sent through the specimen. Dubochet cooled water so rapidly that it solidified in its liquid form around a biological sample, allowing the biomolecules to retain their natural shape even in a vacuum.

"I was overwhelmed. I thought the chances of winning a Nobel prize were miniscule", he told a news briefing by telephone.

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