Two EU-funded scientists have shared in the 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work in developing ways of producing detailed images of the molecules that form the building blocks of life.
Professor Jacques Dubochet, University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and Dr Richard Henderson, Cambridge University, UK, were awarded the prize jointly with Dr Joachim Frank, Columbia University, USA. They each take home a share of the SEK 9 million (EUR 945 000) award for their work with cryo-electron microscopy.
Their research allows scientists to freeze living molecules - known as biomolecules - mid-movement to examine their structures through 3D imagery. This has proved crucial for numerous areas of research, for example, enabling scientists to obtain images of the Zika virus and to visualise proteins that cause antibiotic resistance.
Prior to their research, electron microscopes were believed to be suitable only for imaging dead matter, but over 25 years ago, Dr Henderson managed to capture a 3D image of organic matter when he viewed a protein at atomic resolution. His work built on Dr Frank’s, who had made the technology applicable in the 1970s and 1980s when he developed a processing method to transform the 2D images into sharp 3D visualisations.
‘I am proud to see that EU support has helped two of this year's Nobel Prize laurates to move biochemistry into a new era.’
Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation
Prof. Dubochet added water to the electron microscopy process, which, when it evaporates in the microscope’s vacuum, causes biomolecules to collapse. Together, these discoveries have not only benefitted scientific research but have optimised the strengths of electron microscopes.
Previously Prof. Dubochet participated in the 3D-EM project to which the EU contributed EUR 10 million to develop new electron microscopy approaches for studying protein complexes and cellular architecture.
Dr Henderson was also a participant in the INSTRUCT project which linked the information obtained by major structural biology methods with state-of-the-art cell biology techniques to provide dynamic pictures of key cellular processes at all levels.
Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, said: ‘I warmly congratulate Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson on their achievement. I am proud to see that EU support has helped two of this year's Nobel Prize laureates to move biochemistry into a new era, which will ultimately benefit the society and economy.’
Dr Henderson and Dr Frank both previously provided external expertise to the EU’s European Research Council.
If you liked this article, please consider sharing it on social media.
A major international project is attempting to create the first comprehensive three-dimensional map of all human cells which could end up revealing secrets about our health and how our bodies function.
It's easy to picture a black hole as a kind of all-powerful cosmic drain, a sinkhole of super-strong gravity that snags and swallows passing nebulae or stars. While it is true we can’t observe matter once it crosses a black hole’s event horizon, scientists are zeroing in on what happens in the margins, where molecular clouds release vast amounts of energy as it circles the plughole.
Insects have to cope with a wide range of environmental factors in order to thrive – disease, drought and habitat changes. Scientists hope that studying insect biology and behaviour could help humans cope with problems from climate change to disease control, shift work and even jet lag.
Innovation should be taught as a subject in European schools, according to Tibor Navracsics, the EU’s Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, who says that education can be a defining factor in the life of young scientists.
Bugs have to cope with a wide range of environments in order to thrive.
Pan-European conference discusses the future of innovation in the EU.
Food insecurity leads to increased migration, says Cristina Amaral.