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Dubochet, Frank and Henderson Awarded Nobel Prize in Chemistry

04 Octubre 2017, 10:56 | Bibiana Flor

Dubochet, Frank and Henderson Awarded Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Dubochet, Frank and Henderson Awarded Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Because the powerful electron beam destroys biological material, electron microscopes were long believed to work only when imaging dead matter.

On Monday, the Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to American trio Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young for their work on circadian rhythms, often referred to as our body clocks.

Ordinary electron microscopy makes biomolecules, which contain water, collapse.

"Jacques Dubochet added water to electron microscopy". The technique is used in cryo-EM. Scientists have wielded CRISPR as a tool to shape organisms' genes, demonstrating what a few researchers say is its Nobel-worthy potential. Most other proteins, by contrast, are disorderly, asymmetrical and filled with randomly positioned particles.


It's really hard to get a good look at the stuff life is made of, known as "biomolecules", in action.

Basically, cryo-EM lets biologists see what they're studying, from the surface of the Zika virus to human enzymes involved in disease.

Henderson took a major step forward out of frustration with x-ray crystallography: He couldn't coax proteins embedded in a cell membrane to crystallize.

What did the laureates contribute?


Previous electron microscopes were less useful, partly because they need the sample to be placed in a vacuum. Henderson imaged a protein in three dimensions down to the atomic level.

This year's prize was awarded for developing a "cool method of imaging the molecules of life". He developed an image processing method where a sharper, 3-dimensional image was rendered from the merging and analysis of blurrier, 2-dimensional images produced by the microscope. He could then construct a 3D image from these 2D projections.

In the early 1930s, physicist Ernst Ruska and engineer Max Knoll invented the electron microscope that could view objects 400 times smaller than what was capable with the naked eye. Dubochet realized that if the water was frozen quickly enough-vitrified, like glass-ice crystals wouldn't form. In this "vitrified" sample, the water is disordered but the 3D structure of the biomolecules in the sample is retained.

What is cryo-EM used for?

"It is truly transformative allowing us to see new images of biomolecules - I am personally very happy for Richard who predicted this would be possible many years previously", added Dame Carol Robinson, Professor of Chemistry at the Physical and Theoretical Chemistry Laboratory, Oxford University. The technique revealed which proteins allow cancer cells to evade chemotherapy and identified the Zika virus.




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