The 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded on Wednesday to US scientist, Frances Arnold plus the Anglo-American duo, George Smith and Gregory Winter for pioneering work on evolutionary science.
The fifth woman to win the Nobel Prize in chemistry, Dr Arnold was credited in 1993 with performing the first directed evolution of enzymes -- proteins that catalyse chemical reactions -- that are now used to manufacture everything from biofuels to pharmaceuticals.
Dr Smith developed a method, known as phage display, in which a virus that infects bacteria can be used to evolve new proteins. Dr Winter later used phage display to produce new pharmaceuticals.
“This year’s Nobel Laureates in chemistry have been inspired by the power of evolution and used the same principles — genetic change and selection — to develop proteins that solve mankind’s chemical problems,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement on awarding the $1 million prize.
Among the applications of the directed evolution of enzymes are more environmentally-friendly chemical manufacturing to produce substances such as renewable fuels for greener transport systems.
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The phage technology was used for the directed evolution of antibodies and the first one based on phage display was approved in 2002 and is used for rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel diseases.
The anti-bodies created through this chemical process have the potential to neutralise toxins, counteract autoimmune diseases and cure metastatic cancer.
Last year’s Nobel Prize for chemistry was awarded to Jaques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson for developing a new way to assemble precise three-dimensional images of biological molecules like proteins, DNA and RNA. Their work helped scientists decipher processes within cells that were previously invisible, leading to better understanding of viruses like Zika.