The 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was shared among three researchers who manipulated evolutionary science to modify DNA and create new biomolecular technologies.
Professor Frances Arnold, a CalTech biochemical engineer won half the prize for her work in enzymes. Prof Arnold began her career as an aerospace engineer but interest in renewable energy and emerging DNA technology shifted her interests to large molecules.
As she described, “It was clear that a whole new way of making materials and chemicals that we needed in our daily lives, would be enabled by the ability to rewrite the code of life.”
Using an enzyme called subtilisin, Arnold introduced random mutations into that allowed the biological catalyst to operate more effectively in an organic solvent. Using the new enzymes and chemical routes that do not exist in nature, sugar can be converted more quickly and more efficiently to produce biofuels and greener plastics.
The second half of the prize was awarded to George Smith and Sir Gregory Winter for a biomolecular technology called phage display. Smith used viruses that infect bacteria cells to produce and separate precisely targeted proteins. The next step of the breakthrough by Winter used the biomolecular technology to create human antigen proteins that can combat autoimmune diseases and can sometimes cure metastatic cancer.
All three biomolecular technologies demonstrate a rapidly expanding field whereby nature’s evolutionary processes can be harnessed by mankind to produce revolutionary advances that improve the environment and human health.
Image: Nobel Prize press release
This story is taken from the 5 October 2018 edition of The Warren Centre’s Prototype newsletter. Sign up for the Prototype here.