Dubochet, Frank and Henderson Awarded Nobel Prize in Chemistry

LIVE Sweden's Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2017

LIVE Sweden's Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2017

Frank said cryo-electron microscopy had "immense" potential for medical research, which is increasingly focused on processes inside cells, but it would take time for this to play out - and he was taken aback by news of the award. The scientists helped develop new ways to study tiny cellular structures, proteins and viruses in fine detail.

Who are the winners?

Frank, a 77-year-old biochemistry professor at Columbia University in NY, was woken from his sleep when the committee announced the prize in Stockholm, six hours ahead.

Frank was born in 1940 in Germany and studied physics at the University of Freiburg and the University of Munich. The Nobel committee stated Henderson is the 15th Nobel laureate from this lab. How can you understand a molecule, for example, if you can't see it? Electrons have smaller wavelengths than light, so can squeak in-between ultrasmall structures and illuminate them.

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Other researchers can use these kinds of images to design drugs that precisely fit into the structures, like a lock and key, to stop infection or to improve a cell's function. The resolution was low - another hurdle inherent to biological material - but it was a start.

Applying electron microscopy to biology was a challenge because the technique is done in a vacuum, which can dry out and distort the shape of proteins and other biological molecules. Bacteriorhodopsin packs itself into neat, organized groups.

"I thought the chances of a Nobel Prize were minuscule because there are so many other innovations and discoveries that happen nearly every day", he said.

"Joachim Frank made the technology generally applicable".

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Frank's image analysis for 3D structures.

"[This method] makes it possible to restore the structure of proteins at a resolution higher than 2.2 angstroms (0.2 nanometers - TASS), and this is what's called full-atom models..." But water freezes at low temperatures, creating crystals that alter natural bioarchitecture.

Simply freezing the samples so that water turned to ice was not a solution, as Dubochet himself pointed out today, speaking of the impetus for his project. This solidified the water in its own original liquid form. The use of both techniques was, however, subject to limitations imposed by the nature of biomolecules.

Before cryo-electron microscopy, scientists could only study the dead matter, as electron microscopes' powerful electron beam destroyed biomolecules. Then at the NY health department, he figured out how to make a computer discriminate between the pieces target images, whether a virus or a protein, and whatever was in the background.

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The third recipient, Richard Henderson, was born in Scotland in 1945 and works at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England.

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