Microscope trailblazers win chemistry Nobel for 'freeze framing' life

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The work of the three chemists will be important for the development of pharmaceutical products, according to the royal Academy of sciences of Sweden.

Dubochet was born in 1942 in Switzerland and is based at the University of Lausanne, where he is honorary professor of biophysics. By calling on thermodynamics, biology, computer science, the collective work of Henderson, Frank, Dubochet and others turned cryo-electron microscopy into a pillar of modern biochemistry. "Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson have, through their research, brought 'the greatest benefit to mankind.' Each corner of the cell can be captured in atomic detail and biochemistry is all set for an exciting future".

Their research allows scientists to freeze living molecules - known as biomolecules - mid-movement to examine their structures through 3D imagery.

John Savill, professor and CEO at the United Kingdom government-funded Medical Research Council, said electron microscopy has enabled scientists to examine disease molecules up close.

"Cryo", short for cryogenic refers to very low temperatures. This protects it from damage.

Over the last few years, cryo-EM has begun to demonstrate its potential, including revealing the structure of larger and larger objects, such as viruses. The virus spreads when an infected mosquito bites a pregnant woman. For example, when researchers first noticed that something was causing microcephaly in newborn children, they found and imaged the Zika virus and its proteins to see if they could get a better sense of what was happening. This helped researchers as they worked to create drugs and vaccines. Using this technique, researchers have been able to study the structure of a variety of biological molecules, from proteins involved in circadian rhythms to the Zika virus.

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Previously Prof. Dubochet participated in the 3D-EM project to which the European Union contributed Euro 10 million to develop new electron microscopy approaches for studying protein complexes and cellular architecture. During early 1980, Dubochet became successful in vitrifying the water content. he made the water cool so quickly. The process formed a kind of glass instead of ice.

This method allows bio-molecules to be kept frozen in their natural state without the need for dyes or fixatives. The prize is worth of 9 million ($1.1 million). 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. He was the inventor of dynamite, an explosive.

Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, professor of mammalian development and stem cell biology at the University of Cambridge, said that she thought the win was wonderful. The first awards were presented in 1901.

The electron microscope was designed in the early 1930s by the German physicist Ernst Ruska, for which he was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physics (along with Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer who shared the other half of the Prize).

The Nobel Literature Prize is to be announced today.