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In focus: the Nobel Prize 2017

Nobel Laureates Cheimstry Photo Jenny Öhman

As always, the Nordic Life Science magazine will, in our first issue of the year: the Nobel issue, highlight the Nobel Prize winners in Chemistry and Medicine.

The issue will be filled with Nobel coverage, including exclusive interviews with all six Laureates in Chemistry and Physiology or Medicine. You will also learn more about their discoveries and their impact on society as well as the latest Nordic progress in the fields.

The circadian rhythm

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded jointly to Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm. Life on Earth is adapted to the rotation of our planet. For many years we have known that living organisms, including humans, have an internal, biological clock that helps them anticipate and adapt to the regular rhythm of the day. The Laureates were able to peek inside our biological clock and elucidate its inner workings. Their discoveries explain how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth’s revolutions.

Michael Rosbash spoke in his Banquet Speech, about that all three of them [the Laureates] began their professional lives with a love of laboratory and experiment.

“Yet one should never discount the importance of stochastic events or “blind, dumb luck””, he continued.”We have been blessed with good fortune at almost every turn, but to have this journey topped off in this way is almost unimaginable. Mike, Jeff and I are profoundly grateful,” he finished his speach.

Cryo-EM

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences decided to award the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2017 to Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson. They received the award “for developing cryo-electron microscopy for the high-resolution structure determination of biomolecules in solution”. This method has moved biochemistry into a new era. Researchers can now freeze biomolecules mid-movement and visualize processes they have never previously seen, which is decisive for both the basic understanding of life’s chemistry and for the development of pharmaceuticals.

In his Banquet Speech on December 10 Jacques Dubochet called himself and the other two laureates in chemistry bio-physicists, namely three scientists who work in biology with the spirit of a physicist.

“Chemistry is the science of atoms. Elaborating on Democritus’ idea, chemists learn how atoms stick or don’t stick together, thus forming molecules. We three have never been very good chemists but we are gratified with a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The Peter Principle says that everyone is promoted until they reach their level of incompetence.  We are worried that we may have reached this remarkable point. But I would rather believe that this prize is a testimony of the unity of science,” he said in his speach.

“Thirty years ago, my group presented a model of a virus floating in immobilized water showing details as small as 35 Å. Nowadays, cryo-electron microscopists are nearly routinely achieving 3.5 Å. Thirty years later, a resolution 10 times better, a volume one thousand times smaller, this is truly an impressive achievement. It came about thanks to the contribution of many scientists, and mostly thanks to the continuous and admirable effort of Richard Henderson and Joachim Frank, who have charted the path. The recent revolution in cryo-electron microscopy is simply the consequence that, at 3.5 Å resolution, atoms are visible. We see chemistry, how the atoms are arranged in the molecules, how the disease changes the arrangement. Perhaps we will find which drug disentangles the aggregates that make a brain senile. Many of us are interested in such things. Colleagues cryo-electron microscopists, you have a good tool at your disposal; make the best of it!”

 

The Nobel issue will be out February 9th 2018.

Photo of the chemistry Laureates Joachim Frank, Richard Henderson and Jacques Dubochet: Jenny Öhman