News Worms
News Worms

Lausanne University professor wins Nobel Prize for chemistry

Lausanne University professor wins Nobel Prize for chemistry

Further advances have brought cryo-EM within reach of resolving single atoms, rivalling x-ray crystallography.

"We are facing a revolution in biochemistry", said Nobel Committee Chairman Sara Snogerup Linseduring the announcement, according to CNN. "It underpins every [cryo-electron microscopy] experiment since".

Their persistence paid off when they captured a 3D map of bacteriorhodopsin, a protein pump used by single-celled microorganisms, in 1975.

Like yesterday's physics prize, today, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences is giving the prize not to theorists who devised a insane, later-proven idea or to those who did the analysis for a major discovery.

It is used study the tiniest details of cell structures, viruses and proteins.

A challenge remained: how to use low-energy radiation to see less organized molecules. This involves taking thousands of images of randomly oriented molecules and sorting them into groups of similar images.

"Joachim Frank made the technology generally applicable". His mathematical method sifted through 2D images to identify recurring patterns, and sort them into groups to merge their information, producing sharper images. Today's award left Frank feeling "overwhelmed", he told the press conference by phone.

Cryo-electron microscopy gets around two major challenges when studying large biological molecules with a transmission electron microscope.

Dubochet was the first in the 1980s to successfully vitrify water, cooling it so quickly with ethane that had been chilled by liquid nitrogen that it formed a kind of glass instead of natural ice crystals.

So Dubochet's lab spread their water-based samples across a thin metal grid, leading individual droplets to fill each hole. After learning about the award from a Nature journalist, Ramakrishnan said: "Oh fantastic!" The introduction of Direct Electron Detectors in electron microscopes in 2012-13 turned out to be a powerful tool for scientists as they encountered the challenge of the Zika virus that spread rapidly across various countries in 2015-16.

Swedish television asked Joachim Frank to explain the usefulness of his technique. "And that freedom, combined with very good resources, has been very helpful to the United States".

A happy and humble Jacques Dubochet reflected on his achievements in Lausanne, hours after learning he had won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

John Hardy, neuroscience professor at University College London, said Dubochet, Frank and Henderson's technique has transformed the field of structural biology.


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