Columbia professor wins Nobel Prize in chemistry for imaging molecules of life

Columbia professor wins Nobel Prize in chemistry for imaging molecules of life

Richard Henderson of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK, found a way to protect biomolecules by coating their surface with a glucose solution that stopped it from drying out in the vacuum.

Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank, and Richard Henderson were jointly awarded the prize by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

"Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson have, through their research, brought 'the greatest benefit to (humankind).' Each corner of the cell can be captured in atomic detail and biochemistry is all set for an exciting future".

They are given an important contribution to the cryo-electron microscopy to determine high-resolution of biomolecules.

Frank told journalists gathered at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences that technological innovations can have a larger impact than discoveries. The trio will share the prize money of 9mn Swedish kronor ($1.1mn).

Henderson was the first to make actual observations through electron microscopy, developed in 1930 but infrequently considered for its viability in observing living matter.

The techniques developed by this year's chemistry winners were also applied to this year's winners of the Nobel in physiology and medicine.

Three researchers won a Nobel Prize on Wednesday for developing a microscope technique that lets scientists see exquisite details of the molecules that drive life - basically providing a front-row seat to study these tiny performers in their biological dance. Each has contributed to the development of cryoelectron microscopy, a technique that permits the shapes of biological molecules, such as proteins, to be seen without numerous difficulties involved in preparing them for older techniques, such as X-ray crystallography or conventional electron microscopy. That demonstration of what cryo-EM could achieve was "decisive for both the basic understanding of life's chemistry and for the development of pharmaceuticals", the committee said. However, the powerful beam of the electron microscope would destroy biological material, so it was believed that such microscopy could only reveal images of dead cells and dead organisms. So the duo turned to electron microscoy and, in 1975, they produced their first 3D model of the protein. NMR, meanwhile, allows researchers to study biological molecules in a solution, such as water - but its use has generally been limited to relatively small proteins.

Meanwhile Prof Dubochet introduced his method of vitrifying water - cooling water so rapidly that it solidifies around a biological sample, allowing the molecules to retain their natural shape even in a vacuum.

The other victor Joachim Frank made the technology applicable in general conditions. The benchmark for excellence in the domain of science is the Nobel Prize which is awarded for innovative ventures in Science and this time no exception.

You're absolutely right, in the old form of electron microscopy you saw the contours, but you didn't see the atoms.