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Three Scientists Win Nobel Prize in Chemistry

2017-10-05

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[00:00.00]
  • Three scientists have won the Nobel Prize for chemistry for their work to simplify and improve the imaging of biomolecules.
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  • Goran Hansson is Secretary General of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
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  • He announced the names of the winners Wednesday from the group’s headquarters in Stockholm.
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  • "The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry jointly to Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson.”
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  • Hansson said the scientists were being recognized for what he described as “a cool method for imaging the molecules of life.”
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  • Jacques Dubochet works at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.
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  • Joachim Frank is with Columbia University in the United States.
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  • Richard Henderson is with Britain’s Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England.
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  • The three scientists developed a way to create three-dimensional (3D) images of biological molecules – images with height, width and depth. Their method is called cryo-electron microscopy.
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  • The Royal Swedish Academy described cryo-electron microscopy as “decisive for both the basic understanding of life’s chemistry and for the development” of new medicines.
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  • Scientists long believed that electron microscopes could only be used to study non-living things.
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  • The reason? Their powerful electron beam destroys biological material.
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  • But cryo-technology freezes the biological material, keeping it at extremely low temperatures.
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  • This protects it from damage.
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  • The power of the technology could be seen in the Zika crisis last year.
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  • Zika virus was linked to an increase in brain-damaged babies in Brazil.
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  • The virus spreads when an infected mosquito bites a pregnant woman.
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  • As concerns about Zika spread, scientists turned to cryo-electronic microscopy to make 3-D images of the virus at the atomic level.
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  • This helped researchers as they worked to create drugs and vaccines.
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  • The Nobel committee noted Wednesday that, in 1990, Henderson used an electron microscope to produce a 3-D image of a protein at atomic-level resolution.
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  • In the late 1970s and 1980s, Frank developed mathematical models to sharpen images from such microscopes.
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  • Dubochet added water to electron microscopy.
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  • He cooled water so quickly that it solidified in its liquid form around biological material.
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  • The process formed a kind of glass instead of ice.
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  • As a result, the biomolecules were able to keep their natural shape.
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  • The three scientists will share the $1.1 million prize.
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  • The Nobel prizes are named after the Swedish engineer Alfred Nobel.
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  • He was the inventor of dynamite, an explosive.
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  • Nobel left $9,000,000 in his will to establish yearly prizes.
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  • He said they should go to living people who have worked most effectively to improve human life.
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  • The first awards were presented in 1901.
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  • The chemistry prize is the third Nobel announced this week.
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  • The literature winner will be named Thursday and the peace prize will be announced Friday.
  • [05:17.69]
  • I’m Anne Ball.
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