Nobel Prize Honors Technique for Seeing Molecules' Details

Members of the Nobel Committee sit in front of a giant screen displaying the winners of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry Jacques Dubochet Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson

The cryo-electron microscopy method, developed with Joachim Frank, 77, of New York's Columbia University, and Jacques Dubochet, 75, of Switzerland's University of Lausanne, has implications for medicine shifting focus from organs to processes in cells.

The Noble Prize 2017 for Chemistry is being declared by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, On Wednesday.

Henderson's portion of the prize was awarded for his 1990 breakthrough in imaging with an electron microscope, using the device to produce a 3-dimensional image of a protein at atomic resolution.

Last year's prize went to three European chemists for developing "nano-machines", an advance that paved the way for the world's first smart materials.

It was then in the 90s that Richard Henderson was able to take that a step further and create a 3D image of a protein at an atomic resolution.

The method is called cryo-electron microscopy.

The 2017 Nobel Prize in chemistry has been awarded to three scientists for improving images made of biological molecules. The water that surrounds the molecules evaporates, and the high energy electrons burn and destroy the molecules.

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Chemistry was the second prize mentioned in Alfred Nobel's 1895 will and was the most important of the sciences for his own work, according to the official website of the Nobel Prize.

In the Zika virus, for example, scientists identified unique parts of the pathogen's structure using cryo-electron microscopy, identifying a potential target for a vaccine.

"Jacques Dubochet added water to electron microscopy". In the early 1980s, Dubochet succeeded in vitrifying water - he cooled water so rapidly that it solidified in its liquid form around a biological sample, allowing the biomolecules to retain their natural shape even in a vacuum.

"Normally what I'd do if I was in Cambridge, we will have a party around tea-time in the lab but I expect we'll have it tomorrow instead", Henderson said.

Since its inception, the technique has been used to provide images of cell membranes, structures such as the "needle" used by the salmonella bacteriium to attack cells, and in designing drug molecules to attach to specific targets in new therapies.

The trio was presented with the prize money of 9 million Swedish crowns ($1.1 million) which will be split into three equals.

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