The 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Frances H. Arnold and the other half jointly to George P. Smith and Sir Gregory P. Winter on Wednesday for their work harnessing the power of evolution to develop new proteins used in drugs and medical treatments.
In announcing the award, the Royal Swedish Academy said that this year’s prize “awards a revolution based on evolution,” and goes to scientists who “applied the principles of Darwin in the test tube.”
The methods developed by the laureates have been put to work to create new enzymes and antibodies used in promoting a greener chemicals industry, mitigating disease and saving lives
This year’s Chemistry Laureates have taken control of evolution and used the same principles – genetic change and selection – to develop proteins that solve humankind’s chemical problems. #NobelPrize pic.twitter.com/rDKc2YwLgb
— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) October 3, 2018
Arnold, of the California Institute of Technology, was recognized for performing the first-ever “directed evolution” of enzymes, which are proteins that catalyze chemical reactions. Enzymes produced through directed evolution are used to manufacture everything from sustainable biofuels to pharmaceuticals.
The American scientist and engineer becomes only the fifth woman to have ever won the prize, following Ada Yonath in 2009, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin in 1964, Irène Joliot-Curie in 1935, and her mother, Marie Curie, in 1911.
Smith, a professor at the University of Missouri, won for a method known as “phage display,” which uses bacteriophage – a virus that infects bacteria – to evolve new proteins.
Winter, of the University of Cambridge in the UK, harnessed that method and used it to produce new antibodies, with the aim of making new drugs. Phage display has since been used to produce antibodies that can neutralize toxins, counteract autoimmune diseases and cure metastatic cancer.