More than a dozen Nobel Prizes have been awarded over the past century for techniques that use x-rays to take pictures of proteins and other complex molecules. This year, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to three pioneers of an approach that could ultimately displace x-rays: Jacques Dubochet of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, Joachim Frank of Columbia University, and Richard Henderson of the Medical Research Council Laboratory for Molecular Biology in Cambridge, U.K. Called cryo–electron microscopy, it can take snapshots of large, wriggly structures, such as the cell's proteinmaking machinery and the structure of the Zika virus, that x-rays have trouble seeing. Use of the new technique is growing fast among biologists, and has funding agencies around the globe racing to build new imaging centers.
Two scientists have been awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing the tools to edit DNA. Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna are the first two women to share the prize, awarded for their work on the technology of genome editing. Their discovery, known as Crispr-Cas9 genetic scissors, is a way of making specific and precise changes to the DNA contained in living cells. They are the first women to share the prize without a male collaborator. The winners will share the prize money of 10 million krona (£861,200; $1,110,400).
CRISPR gene editing promises to revolutionize medical science, and two of its pioneers are getting a prestigious award for their efforts. Emmanuelle Charpentier (shown at left) and Jennifer Doudna (right) have received the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their roles in discovering the CRISPR/Cas9 "genetic scissors" used to cut DNA. Charpentier found the key tracrRNA molecule that bacteria use to cut and disable viruses, and collaborated with RNA expert Doudna to eventually'reprogram' the scissors to cut any DNA molecule at a specific point, making the gene editing method viable. While the team including Charpentier and Doudna published its work in June 2012, seven months before a Broad Institute-led group released its own findings, it didn't include certain aspects Broad used when it started patenting gene editing methods in 2014. That led to a patent battle that's still raging today, with Broad getting "priority" for its patents even as it as denied several motions that could give Charpentier and Doudna an advantage.
The Nobel Prize for chemistry has been awarded to German scientist Benjamin List of the Max Planck Institute and Scotland-born scientist David WC MacMillan of Princeton University. The two scientists' work had advanced pharmaceutical research and "made chemistry greener", the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement on Wednesday as it announced the winners. List and MacMillan, working independently of each other, had developed a new type of catalyst to accelerate chemical reactions called asymmetric organocatalysis. Such catalysts are essential in molecular construction, the academy said. "This concept for catalysis is as simple as it is ingenious, and the fact is that many people have wondered why we didn't think of it earlier," said Johan Aqvist, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.
They toil against equilibrium, entropy, death. And since the Industrial Revolution, machines have become ubiquitous, a practically invisible backdrop to the macroscopic world. This year's Nobel Prize for chemistry goes to scientists who did foundational work in making machines part of the nano-scale world--that is, actually invisible. Molecules are governed by random rules, and naturally edge towards equilibrium. They are also impossible to manipulate without using chemistry.