Syndicate content

2018 Chemistry Nobel Awarded for Directed Evolution of Enzymes & Phage Display

On October 3, 2018, The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced that it had decided to award the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2018 with one half to Dr. Frances H. Arnold (photo), California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, USA, “for the directed evolution of enzymes,” and the other half jointly to George P. Smith, University of Missouri, Columbia, USA, and Sir Gregory P. Winter, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK, “for the phage display of peptides and antibodies.” The power of evolution is revealed through the diversity of life. The 2018 Nobel Laureates in Chemistry have taken control of evolution and used it for purposes that bring great benefit to humankind. Enzymes produced through directed evolution are used to manufacture everything from biofuels to pharmaceuticals. Antibodies evolved using a method called phage display can combat autoimmune diseases and, in some cases, cure metastatic cancer. Since the first seeds of life arose approximately 3.7 billion years ago, almost every crevice on Earth has filled with different organisms. Life has spread to hot springs, deep oceans and dry deserts, all because evolution has solved a number of chemical problems. Life’s chemical tools – proteins – have been optimized, changed and renewed, creating incredible diversity. This year’s Nobel Laureates in Chemistry have been inspired by the power of evolution and used the same principles – genetic change and selection – to develop proteins that solve mankind’s chemical problems. One half of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded to Dr. Arnold. In 1993, she conducted the first directed evolution of enzymes. Since then, she has refined the methods that are now routinely used to develop new catalysts. The uses of Dr. Arnold’s enzymes include more environmentally friendly manufacturing of chemical substances, such as pharmaceuticals, and the production of renewable fuels for a greener transport sector. The other half of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry is shared by Dr. Smith and Dr. Winter. In 1985, Dr. Smith developed an elegant method known as phage display, where a bacteriophage – a virus that infects bacteria – can be used to evolve new proteins. Dr. Winter used phage display for the directed evolution of antibodies, with the aim of producing new pharmaceuticals. The first antibody based on this method, adalimumab, was approved in 2002 and is used for rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel diseases. Since then, phage display has produced antibodies that can neutralize toxins, counteract autoimmune disease, and cure metastatic cancer.

[Press release]

[NY Times article] [NPR article] [The Economist article] [Wshington Post article]