Chemistry Nobel 2018 Winners Include Fifth Female Laureate Ever

This year's recipients were recognized for taking control of evolution by using genetic change and selection to engineer proteins capable of solving humanity's greatest chemical problems
Loukia Papadopoulos

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2018 was awarded today with one half going to Frances H. Arnold and the other half jointly to George P. Smith and Sir Gregory P. Winter. The event marks the fifth time in the prize's history that a female laureate is chosen.

Another woman winner after almost a decade

Arnold was recognized for conducting "the first directed evolution of enzymes". The result was proteins that catalyze chemical reactions used to manufacture everything from renewable fuels for an eco-friendly transport sector to efficient pharmaceuticals. Her work has been effective in cutting out the use of toxic catalysts.


The last time a female scientist won the prestigious award was nearly a decade ago. In 2009, Ada E. Yonath shared the prize for her work related to the structure of ribosomes, making her the fourth female chemistry Nobel laureate ever.

Just yesterday, another female laureate was awarded the Nobel in physics. Donna Strickland shared the prize with two other physicists and the event marked the third time in history that a woman was the recipient of the physics Nobel.

Phage display on full display

Meanwhile, both Winter and Smith won for work related to phage display. A phage is a virus that can infect bacteria in such a way as to deceive the microbes into reproducing it. Phage display is a technique that uses this process for creating and screening novel proteins.

Winter was chosen for his work involving the use of phage display in the production of new pharmaceuticals, such as powerful antibodies that can fight autoimmune diseases and even cancer. Smith won for developing a phage display method where bacteriophages evolve the new proteins. 

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences acknowledged the role that evolution principles played in all this year's recipients' work. "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," read the organization's statement.

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The statement added that the winners "have taken control of evolution and used it for purposes that bring the greatest benefit to humankind." In addition, the organization offered up hope that this crucial research would continue to contribute important improvements to humanity as a whole.

"We are in the early days of directed evolution’s revolution which, in many different ways, is bringing and will bring the greatest benefit to humankind," concluded the press release.  


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