Published: Thu, October 05, 2017
Research | By Derrick Holloway

Dubochet, Frank, Henderson win 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Dubochet, Frank, Henderson win 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

This year's winners of the Physics and Physiology or Medicine Prizes were announced earlier this week. 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. The technology has huge potential in the field of biochemistry.

The Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences said the scientists' discovery allowed researchers to "freeze biomolecules" mid-movement and analyse processes that had not been seen before. Using it, scientists have made high-resolution, 3D images to target cancer drugs and demystify the Zika virus. The use of both techniques was, however, subject to limitations imposed by the nature of biomolecules.

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. And NMR worked for only a relatively small set of proteins.

The Nobel award week opened Monday with a trio of U.S. scientists sharing the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for research into how organism's internal biological clocks align themselves with natural cycles of night and day.

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'Biochemical maps have always been filled with blank spaces because the available technology has had difficulty generating images of much of life's molecular machinery.

Previous electron microscopes were less useful, partly because they need the sample to be placed in a vacuum.

This was in 1975. The technique of studying the life-building structures is called cryo-electron microscopy, which has brought revolution in the field of biochemistry.

Joachim Frank's strategy built upon having a computer discriminate between the traces of randomly positioned proteins and their background in a fuzzy electron microscope image.

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In 1991, Frank combined Dubochet's vitrification technique with his imaging algorithm to obtain images of ribosomes.

Previously, electron microscopy imaging was only suitable for studying dead matter, because the electron beam destroys any biological material it is applied to.

Proteins and other biomolecules are essentially nanomachines, and any detailed understanding of them requires knowing with precision how they change shape, bond to other molecules and pass around ions while sitting in cell membranes or floating in solution. It's like "Google Earth for molecules", Campbell said, because it "allows the scientist to zoom in down to the fine detail (giving) that fine resolution that you want to have".

"This technology has taken biochemistry into a new era", it added.

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