Nobel Prize honors technique for seeing molecules' details

China Plus/AP Published: 2017-10-04 18:54:28
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Three researchers based in the U.S., U.K. and Switzerland won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry on Wednesday for developments in electron microscopy.

A screen shows (L-R) scientists Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson who were award the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2017, during a press conference at the Royal Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, Sweden, 04 October 2017.[Photo: IC]

A screen shows (L-R) scientists Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson who were award the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2017, during a press conference at the Royal Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, Sweden, 04 October 2017.[Photo: IC]

The 9-million-kronor ($1.1 million) prize is shared by Jacques Dubochet of the University of Lausanne, Joachim Frank at New York's Columbia University and Richard Henderson of MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, Britain.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said their method, called cryo-electron microscopy, allows researchers to "freeze biomolecules" mid-movement and visualize processes they have never previously seen.

The development, it said, "is decisive for both the basic understanding of life's chemistry and for the development of pharmaceuticals."

Sara Snogerup Linse with the Nobel Committee says their developments means their advancements help us understand the smallest levels of biochemistry.

"We can soon see more details about the biomolecules at every corner of our cells, on every drop of our body fluids, we can understand how they are built, and how they act and how they work together in large communities, we are facing a revolution in biochemistry," Linse said.

From left, Sara Snogerup Linse, chairman of the Nobel Committee in Chemistry, Goran K. Hansson, secretary of the Royal Academy of Sciences, and Peter Brzezinski, member of the Nobel Committee, sit during a press conference as they announce - Jacques Dubochet - from the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, Joachim Frank from Columbia University, USA and Richard Henderson, from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, in England as the winners of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, at the Royal Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017.[Photo: IC]

From left, Sara Snogerup Linse, chairman of the Nobel Committee in Chemistry, Goran K. Hansson, secretary of the Royal Academy of Sciences, and Peter Brzezinski, member of the Nobel Committee, sit during a press conference as they announce - Jacques Dubochet - from the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, Joachim Frank from Columbia University, USA and Richard Henderson, from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, in England as the winners of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, at the Royal Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017.[Photo: IC]

Joachim Frank says he's overwhelmed by the news.

"I was really overwhelmed. I thought the chance of Nobel Prize was miniature, because there are so many other innovation and discoveries that happened every day. So I was really speechless, only say this was wonderful news, I repeated it to myself," Frank said.

The annual prize rewards researchers for major advances in studying the infinitesimal bits of material that are the building blocks of life.

Recent prizes have gone to scientists who developed molecular "machines" — molecules with controllable motions — and who mapped how cells repair damaged DNA, leading to improved cancer treatments.

It's the third Nobel announced this week.

The medicine prize went to three Americans studying circadian rhythms: Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young. The physics prize went to Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish and Kip Thorne for detecting gravitational waves.

The literature winner will be named Thursday and the peace prize will be announced Friday.

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