Dubochet, Frank, Henderson win 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Jacques Dubochet one of the 2017 Nobel Prize winners in Chemistry

As electron microscopes improved, Henderson was eventually able to deduce the structure at the atomic scale by 1990 - showing that it was possible to do high-quality studies of biological molecules using an electron microscope.

During the same decade, Frank, of Columbia University in NY, and his colleagues developed image-processing software to make sense of the fuzzy images that are produced when an electron microscope is aimed at a protein, and to convert these two-dimensional blurs into 3D molecular structures.

By freezing biomolecules mid-movement, scientists can unravel previously unseen processes - a major advance both for basic understanding and the potential development of new drugs.

The chemistry prize was the third Nobel announced this week.

Like yesterday's physics prize, today, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences is giving the prize not to theorists who devised a insane, later-proven idea or to those who did the analysis for a major discovery. It was a bit of a special case, because of the ordered arrangement of the proteins in the cell membrane, but in principle this approach could be used for any molecule found in cells.

Richard Henderson, Joachim Frank and Jacques Dubochet helped to develop cryo-electron microscopy. He ran test after test using different electron microscopes to make it all work. At first the images produced, though useful, were somewhat shapeless - leading cryo-electron microscopy to be dubbed "blobology".

"This is a technique that is just starting to find its way into the research community", said Allison A. Campbell, president of the American Chemical Society.

Joachim Frank of Columbia University was told he would will share the Nobel Prize for Chemistry
Joachim Frank of Columbia University was told he would will share the Nobel Prize for Chemistry

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

Now 75, he discovered in the 1980s how to cool water so quickly that it solidifies in liquid form around a biological sample, allowing the molecules to retain their natural shape even in a vacuum.

"The three of us who have been awarded the prize are sort of acting on behalf of the whole field", he told a news conference in Cambridge, England.

The 2017 prize, worth 9 million kronor ($1.1 million), is being announced Wednesday by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Whereas, the physics prize awarded to Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish and Kip Thorne for detecting gravitational waves.

No Indian citizen has won the Nobel prize in Chemistry.

Additional Nobel Prizes will be awarded over the next few days - literature on Thursday, peace on Friday and economics on October 9.

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