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The 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry winners all work with ‘directed’ evolution
The field they work in is quite cutting edge.
- "Directed" evolution is a kind of coaxing, and speeding up of, evolution itself.
- The committee referred to the work of all three as "The foundation for a revolution in chemistry."
- Frances H. Arnold is the fifth woman to win the prize in chemistry in its 117-year history.
How they did it
The 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry winners are Frances H. Arnold at the California Institute of Technology, Sir Greg Winter of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in the U.K., and George P. Smith at the University of Missouri. They all used variants of existing chemistry studies to find solutions to problems such as creating biofuel from sugars, as well as altering human antibodies to fight things such as rheumatoid arthritis and cancer.
Arnold, only the fifth woman to win the prize in its 117-year history, won half of the prize, with Winter and Smith sharing the other half.
Analysis of CsoS1A and the protein shell of the Halothiobacillus neapolitanus carboxysome. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Arnold flipped the entire idea that chemists had followed for decades on its head. Sort of.
You see, chemists before her spent lots of research and time trying to create enzymes that would perform things beneficial to humans, such as producing a drug that would be far too expensive to make in a factory.
This proved impossible; enzymes are far too complex to be harnessed like that.
Enter Ms. Arnold. She decided that by altering the genes that produce enzymes, via purposefully-introduced cell mutation that was even slightly closer to the desired results, eventually the cells produced would mutate again and again until they got to a desired point of behaving as she wanted them to.
Since she pioneered this technique in the 1990s and other scientists have followed suit, pharmaceuticals and even chemistries that didn't exist previously have been successfully created via those enzymes. This has meant a reduction in harmful chemicals previously used to create similar effects, but critically, it's also produced a fascinating possibility for future humans: biofuel, created from simple sugars into alcohol via mutated enzymes.
Arnold was asleep in a hotel room in Texas when her phone rang with the news, according to NPR.
"And at first, of course, I thought it was one of my sons, with a problem," Arnold said. "But then it was a wonderful feeling. They told me that I had won the Nobel Prize!"
The cures that began as phages
Meanwhile, the second Nobel Prize winner, Sir George P. Smith, found a class of viruses called "phages," which would actually invade bacteria and hijack their mechanisms. Greg Winter then built upon that work to alter antibodies, which are always on the lookout for foreign invaders in our bodies — specifically, proteins that are the building blocks of invaders such as viruses — and then "tagging" or marking those invader proteins so that other antibodies can collect and mass an attack.
Winter actually changed the genetics of those antibodies so that they'd instead seek the proteins that cause such things as rheumatoid arthritis. Other scientists then took that process and targeted diseases and viral attackers, such as lupus and anthrax. Alzheimer's disease is quite possibly a future target for this, as is metastatic cancer.
"The greatest benefit to humankind"
Screencap from "Announcement of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2018" video below
By Nobel Prize Committee
The Nobel committee, in its announcement of the awards, summed it up: "The directed evolution of enzymes and the phage display of antibodies have allowed Frances Arnold, George Smith and Greg Winter to bring the greatest benefit to humankind and to lay the foundation for a revolution in chemistry."
The announcement as it happened:
- Revolution in Evolution Wins 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry ... ›
- Nobel Prize in Chemistry Is Awarded to 3 Scientists for Using ... ›
- NIH grantees win 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry | National Institutes ... ›
- Nobel prize in chemistry awarded for pioneering work on proteins ... ›
- Press release: The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2018 - NobelPrize.org ›
- The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2018 - NobelPrize.org ›
Some mysteries take generations to unfold.
- In 1959, a group of nine Russian hikers was killed in an overnight incident in the Ural Mountains.
- Conspiracies about their deaths have flourished ever since, including alien invasion, an irate Yeti, and angry tribesmen.
- Researchers have finally confirmed that their deaths were due to a slab avalanche caused by intense winds.
a: Last picture of the Dyatlov group taken before sunset, while making a cut in the slope to install the tent. b: Broken tent covered with snow as it was found during the search 26 days after the event.
Photographs courtesy of the Dyatlov Memorial Foundation.<p>Finally, a <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s43247-020-00081-8" target="_blank">new study</a>, published in the Nature journal Communications Earth & Environment, has put the case to rest: it was a slab avalanche.</p><p>This theory isn't exactly new either. Researchers have long been skeptical about the avalanche notion, however, due to the grade of the hill. Slab avalanches don't need a steep slope to get started. Crown or flank fractures can quickly release as little as a few centimeters of earth (or snow) sliding down a hill (or mountain). </p><p>As researchers Johan Gaume (Switzerland's WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF) and Alexander Puzrin (Switzerland's Institute for Geotechnical Engineering) write, it was "a combination of irregular topography, a cut made in the slope to install the tent and the subsequent deposition of snow induced by strong katabatic winds contributed after a suitable time to the slab release, which caused severe non-fatal injuries, in agreement with the autopsy results."</p><p>Conspiracy theories abound when evidence is lacking. Twenty-six days after the incident, a team showed up to investigate. They didn't find any obvious sounds of an avalanche; the slope angle was below 30 degrees, ruling out (to them) the possibility of a landslide. Plus, the head injuries suffered were not typical of avalanche victims. Inject doubt and crazy theories will flourish.</p>
Configuration of the Dyatlov tent installed on a flat surface after making a cut in the slope below a small shoulder. Snow deposition above the tent is due to wind transport of snow (with deposition flux Q).
Photo courtesy of Communications Earth & Environment.<p>Add to this Russian leadership's longstanding battle with (or against) the truth. In 2015 the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation decided to reopen this case. Four years later the agency concluded it was indeed a snow avalanche—an assertion immediately challenged within the Russian Federation. The oppositional agency eventually agreed as well. The problem was neither really provided conclusive scientific evidence.</p><p>Gaume and Puzrin went to work. They provided four critical factors that confirmed the avalanche: </p><ul><li>The location of the tent under a shoulder in a locally steeper slope to protect them from the wind </li><li>A buried weak snow layer parallel to the locally steeper terrain, which resulted in an upward-thinning snow slab</li><li>The cut in the snow slab made by the group to install the tent </li><li>Strong katabatic winds that led to progressive snow accumulation due to the local topography (shoulder above the tent) causing a delayed failure</li></ul><p>Case closed? It appears so, though don't expect conspiracy theories to abate. Good research takes time—sometimes generations. We're constantly learning about our environment and then applying those lessons to the past. While we can't expect every skeptic to accept the findings, from the looks of this study, a 62-year-old case is now closed.</p><p> --</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His most recent book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
As patients approached death, many had dreams and visions of deceased loved ones.
One of the most devastating elements of the coronavirus pandemic has been the inability to personally care for loved ones who have fallen ill.
Research reveals a new evolutionary feature that separates humans from other primates.
- Researchers find a new feature of human evolution.
- Humans have evolved to use less water per day than other primates.
- The nose is one of the factors that allows humans to be water efficient.
A model of water turnover for humans and chimpanzees who have similar fat free mass and body water pools.
Credit: Current Biology
Being skeptical isn't just about being contrarian. It's about asking the right questions of ourselves and others to gain understanding.