Research into Cryo-Electron Microscopy Lands Nobel Prize in Chemistry


Dubochet, who is now retired, is Swiss; Frank, of Columbia University, New York, is German, and Henderson, of the MRC laboratory of molecular biology in Cambridge, is Scottish.

While announcing the winners, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences stated that their research "both simplifies and improves the imaging of biomolecules", and their work "has moved biochemistry into a new era". By calling on thermodynamics, biology, computer science, the collective work of Henderson, Frank, Dubochet and others turned cryo-electron microscopy into a pillar of modern biochemistry.

COOL ADVANCE Cryo-electron microscopy, an imaging technique that involves flash freezing molecules to see their structures, has won its inventors the Nobel Prize in chemistry. Toward the end of Wednesday's event, a journalist from Chinese radio asked Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences Secretary General Göran K. Hansson about the prevalence of Americans, and what it says about USA research environment and policies. The three laureates will equally split the $1.1 million in prize money.

Explaining the significance of cryo-EM, Nobel chemistry committee member Heiner Linke said it allowed scientists to "see down to the position of individual atoms to be able to see how these molecules interact with one another, what complexes they build, how these complex machineries work". Together, these discoveries have not only benefitted scientific research but have optimised the strengths of electron microscopes. He said they should go to living people who have worked most effectively to improve human life.

"Frank developed an image processing method in which the electron microscope's fuzzy two-dimensional images are analyzed and merged to reveal a sharp three-dimensional structure", the Nobel announcement said. In 1990, after more than 15 years of effort, he became the first to use it to produce a picture of a protein, bacteriorhodopsin, that was as detailed as those X-ray crystallography can provide.

For many years - in the 1970s, the electron microscope was the only way to look into the cell and observe the minute beings that play such an important role in our lives such as viruses.

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

It is these three breakthroughs that have led to the technology we have today.

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

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. In work between 1975 and 1986, Frank came up with a way to make sense of the data, sorting the images into related groups of shapes and then averaging each group.

The Nobel prizes are named after the Swedish engineer Alfred Nobel.