February 22, 2018

Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded to cryo-electron microscopy developers

05 October 2017, 12:50 | Ruben Fields

Nobel chemistry prize awarded for molecular machines which repair damaged DNA

Noble Chemistry Prize

Jacques Dubochet of Switzerland, Joachim Frank of the U.S. and Richard Henderson of the United Kingdom were awarded the prize for cryo-electron microsopy.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2017 to a trio of scientists for developing cryo-electron microscopy that improves the imaging of biomolecules.

A British scientist is one of three researchers who have been awarded this year's Nobel Prize in chemistry for developing a method to produce 3D images of the molecules of life.

The process makes it possible for life's molecular building blocks to be captured mid-movement and allowed scientists to visualise processes that had never before been seen.

Dubochet is an honorary professor of biophysics at the University of Lausanne, and Henderson is a professor at a molecular biology laboratory at Cambridge University.

The electron microscope was designed in the early 1930s by the German physicist Ernst Ruska, for which he was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physics (along with Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer who shared the other half of the Prize).

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Because the wavelength of electrons is much shorter than that of light, it can reveal much finer detail than even super-resolution light microscopy (which was awarded the chemistry Nobel prize in 2014). 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.

Three researchers based in the USA, United Kingdom and Switzerland won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry on Wednesday for developments in electron microscopy. Typically, in an electron microscope, water will cause biomolecules to collapse.

Since its inception, the technique has been used to provide images of cell membranes, structures such as the "needle" used by the salmonella bacteriium to attack cells, and in designing drug molecules to attach to specific targets in new therapies.

Because the powerful electron beam destroys biological material, electron microscopes were long believed to work only when imaging dead matter. Dubochet created the first images of various viruses using vitrified water samples.

He is the eighth Swiss national to win a Nobel Prize in chemistry.

"I am very happy-I think this [prize] is something that he really deserves".

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