Cambridge scientist Sir Greg Winter wins Nobel prize for chemistry

Grant Boone
October 4, 2018

Sir Greg Winter, of Cambridge University, was one of three scientists honoured for their work in producing new enzymes and antibodies, including treatments for cancer. Chemistry is the third of this year's Nobel Prizes after the winners of the medicine and physics awards were announced earlier this week.

Douglas Kell, a professor of bioanalytical science at the University of Manchester, says the prize is "fantastic news".

This year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to three scientists for using the power of evolution to design molecules with a range of practical uses.

Researchers have learned to use the process of evolution to develop new forms of molecules that are used to manufacture everything from biofuels to pharmaceuticals, such as Humira, which sold about $18 billion a year ago. Since then, she has refined the methods that are now routinely used to develop new catalysts. More environmentally friendly chemical substances are being developed, improving everyday products such as laundry and dishwashing detergents to enhance their performance in cold temperatures.

"What always amazes me about Frances is she's such a powerhouse - she gets so much done", said Michael Hecht, a professor of chemistry at Princeton and a longtime friend of Arnold. "Making good enzymes will require a whole new level of insight, or new methodologies altogether". "Is that the kind of work that people will want to fund?", she asked. I don't know how else she can do what she does.

Arnold stressed the importance of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers in an interview with HuffPost in 2016, shortly after winning the Millennium Technology Prize. "Thanks to a whole slew of her accomplishments with evolving enzymes, she has been able to show that they can do things we never expected and have never been observed on Earth before". "There are also enzymes that can create new types of biofuels or that catalyze the formation of building blocks for new medicines", said chairman of the Nobel chemistry committee Claes Gustafsson. They were the wish of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who established the organization that provides money for the prizes.

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Arnold focused on solar energy research while she was an undergraduate at Princeton, and shifted to biochemistry in graduate school.

Equally true is that even these stellar scientists have not found a way to invent from scratch proteins that rival the ones we see by the thousands in living cells.

The first drug based on this work is used against rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disease, the academy said.

Her approach, "directed evolution", mimics the same evolution that turned dinosaurs into birds, but it works much more quickly.

The academy described the process as being similar to biological evolution. "Sex is an innovation-generation machine", she said.

"I'm bouncing off the walls but I'm trying to pretend to sound calm and collected", she told the Nobel Foundation in an interview, adding she was "annoyed" she couldn't reach her sons to give them the news. She studied engineering at Princeton University and received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

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