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The Chemistry Prize honors the development of click chemistry and bioorthogonal reactions

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2022 is about making difficult processes easier, describes the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

“This year’s Prize in Chemistry deals with not overcomplicating matters, instead working with what is easy and simple. Functional molecules can be built even by taking a straightforward route,” says Johan Åqvist, Chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences decided to award the 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Carolyn R. Bertozzi, Stanford University, Morten Meldal, University of Copenhagen and K. Barry Sharpless, Scripps Research.

Barry Sharpless and Morten Meldal have laid the foundation for a functional form of chemistry – click chemistry – in which molecular building blocks snap together quickly and efficiently. Carolyn Bertozzi has taken click chemistry to a new dimension and started utilizing it in living organisms.

The crown jewel of click chemistry

Around the year 2000, Barry Sharpless coined the concept of click chemistry, which is a form of simple and reliable chemistry, where reactions occur quickly and unwanted by-products are avoided. Shortly afterwards, Morten Meldal and Barry Sharpless – independently of each other – presented what is now the crown jewel of click chemistry: the copper catalyzed azide-alkyne cycloaddition.

“Among many other uses, it is utilized in the development of pharmaceuticals, for mapping DNA and creating materials that are more fit for purpose.”

This is an elegant and efficient chemical reaction that is now in widespread use, describes the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Among many other uses, it is utilized in the development of pharmaceuticals, for mapping DNA and creating materials that are more fit for purpose.

Bioorthogonal reactions

Carolyn Bertozzi took click chemistry to a new level. To map important but elusive biomolecules on the surface of cells – glycans – she developed click reactions that work inside living organisms. Her bioorthogonal reactions take place without disrupting the normal chemistry of the cell.

These reactions are now used globally to explore cells and track biological processes. Using bioorthogonal reactions, researchers have improved the targeting of cancer pharmaceuticals, which are now being tested in clinical trials.

Click chemistry and bioorthogonal reactions have taken chemistry into the era of functionalism. This is bringing the greatest benefit to humankind, states the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Illustration: Johan Jarnestad/the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

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