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Trio takes chemistry Nobel for ‘cool’ method to study molecules

  • Published at 12:31 am October 5th, 2017
Trio takes chemistry Nobel for ‘cool’ method to study molecules
A revolutionary technique dubbed cryo-electron microscopy, which has shed light on the Zika virus and an Alzheimer’s enzyme, earned scientists Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson the Nobel Chemistry Prize on Wednesday. Thanks to the international team’s “cool method”, which uses electron beams to examine the tiniest structures of cells, “researchers can now freeze biomolecules mid-movement and visualise processes they have never previously seen,” the Nobel chemistry committee said. The ultra-sensitive imaging method allows molecules to be flash-frozen and studied in their natural form, without the need for dyes. It has laid bare never-before-seen details of the tiny protein machines that run all cells. “When researchers began to suspect that the Zika virus was causing the epidemic of brain-damaged newborns in Brazil, they turned to electron microscopy to visualise the virus,” the committee said. In the first half of the 20th century, biomolecules – proteins, DNA and RNA – were terra incognita on the map of biochemistry. Because the powerful electron beam destroys biological material, electron microscopes were long thought to be useful only to study dead matter.