Nobel Prize for Directed Evolution of Enzymes

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They changed proteins according to the principles of evolution: Frances H. Arnold, George P. Smith and Sir Gregory P. Winter received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

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They build nature in rapid succession: The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2018 goes in half to the enzyme researcher Frances H. Arnold and partly to George P. Smith and Sir Gregory P. Winter, who provided the foundations for modern antibody medicine. All three are considered pioneers of directed evolution. This was announced by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.


The basis of all life are chemical reactions that through Enzyme – so certain proteins – are made possible. What these proteins do, control genes. Over millions of years, these building blocks of life are changing, their structure is undergoing evolution. The researchers, now honored with the Nobel Prize, have succeeded in letting this evolution in the test tube in a short time and thus making it usable for very specific purposes.

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In this way, they could artificially use the evolution occurring in nature – something that experts call “directed evolution”. This technology in biotechnology, for example, is used today to develop biofuels or agents that degrade toxins in the industry. Also therapies with antibodies, which give Biomedizinerinnen with such laboratory procedures the desired properties, based on this principle.

Frances Arnold optimized the enzymes

Frances Arnold was the first who succeeded in subjecting enzymes to such directed evolution in the laboratory and allowing them to be purposefully mutated. That was in 1993. With this technique she created extremely powerful proteins that had only the desired properties. Today, she conducts research at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, USA.

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Over the past decades, she has refined the method she has developed – today, biomedical scientists around the world are working on it. Medicines, industrial and agricultural chemicals or biofuels – all of which are made using this method. Because for all these things individually tailored enzymes are needed.

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George Smith filtered out the best antibodies

George P. Smith, now at the University of Missouri, USA, developed in 1985 a procedure called phage display. In this complex biotechnological approach, bacteriophages – viruses that attack bacteria – are used to filter out proteins with specific properties by selection.


Sir Gregory P. Winter, now at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK, used this approach to develop antibodies with desired properties by directed evolution – the basis for new drugs. The first legal device to be created in this way and launched in 2002 was Adalimumab. It is prescribed for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and certain inflammatory bowel disease. In the meantime, phar- maceuticals have been used by phar- maceuticals to develop other medicines – for example, against autoimmune diseases or cancer.

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Nobel Prize in Physics for the Basis of the Eye Laser

On Tuesday, the Nobel Committee proclaimed the laureates for physics. For their research in the field of laser physics (read a detailed article here) receives this year, the US scientist Arthur Ashkin one part, the Frenchman Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland from Canada share the other part of the award. Ashkin created the basis for today’s laser tweezers, which revolutionized laboratory work with cells, viruses or bacteria. Strickland and Mourou provided the fundamentals for high-performance and high-precision lasers. Without it, for example, there would not be the laser eye procedure used today on millions of people to correct ametropia.

Nobel Prize in medicine for cancer immunotherapy

For the development of cancer immunotherapy, James Allison and Tasuku Honjo share the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (read more about their research in detail here) , as the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm announced on Monday. They had discovered protein structures that prevent immune cells from destroying tumor cells in the body’s own immune system. By eliminating these inhibitors, ie “breaking the brakes” and encouraging the defense cells to attack, immunologists opened the way to cancer drugs that stimulate the body to heal itself against tumors and are already used today.

The medals are traditionally presented by the Swedish king. The solemn Nobel Ceremony will take place in December.

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