Chemistry Nobel for using evolution to create new proteins
By MALCOLM RITTER, JIM HEINTZ and CHRISTOPHER CHESTER
Thursday, October 4
STOCKHOLM (AP) — Three scientists won the Nobel Prize in chemistry Wednesday for using a sped-up version of evolution to create new proteins that have led to a best-selling drug and other products.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Science said their work has led to the development of medications, biofuels and a reduced environmental impact from some industrial processes.
Frances Arnold of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena was awarded half of the 9-million-kronor ($1.01 million) prize, while the other half was shared by George Smith of the University of Missouri and Gregory Winter of the MRC molecular biology lab in Cambridge, England.
Arnold is only the fifth woman to win a chemistry Nobel since the prizes began in 1901.
The winners “have taken control of evolution and used it for purposes that bring the greatest benefit to humankind,” the Nobel committee said.
In nature, evolution proceeds slowly as random genetic mutations generate variety in organisms and proteins, and those versions that work best in their environment persist for future generations. The research honored Wednesday mimicked that process by inducing mutations in proteins and selecting those that best met the goals of the research.
Smith, 77, and Winter, 67, worked with viruses called phages that infect bacteria. Smith showed in 1985 that inserting DNA into these viruses would make them display proteins linked to that DNA on their surfaces. It was a way to find an unknown gene for a known protein.
Winter adapted the approach to create useful antibodies, proteins that target and grab onto disease-related targets. Winter introduced mutations to make antibodies progressively better at binding to their targets. In 1994, for example, he developed antibodies that grab onto cancer cells.
The first pharmaceutical based on Winter’s work, AbbVie’s adalimumab, was approved for sale in 2002. It’s used to treat immune-system disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel diseases, the academy said.
Sold as Humira in the U.S. and under other brand names elsewhere, it brought AbbVie $18.4 billion in revenue last year, in part because of its price: about $5,000 a month without insurance coverage in the U.S.
Other antibodies produced by this approach fight cancer, neutralize the anthrax toxin and slow down lupus, the Swedish academy said.
Dr. Wayne Marasco of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston said the lab technique developed by Smith and Winter was “revolutionary … and it’s used today, every day.”
Arnold, 62, was seeking ways to make improved enzymes, which are proteins that encourage chemical reactions to occur. In 1993, she showed the power of “directed evolution” for doing that.
First she created random mutations in DNA that lets cells produce an enzyme. Then she slipped these mutated genes into bacteria, which pumped out thousands of different variants of the enzyme.
One variant did a particularly good job at a certain task, so she made a new round of mutations in this variant. That produced another variant that worked better. When she made mutant versions of that variant, she got an even better version. It contained a combination of 10 mutations that nobody could have predicted would work so well, the Swedish academy said.
Techniques for directed evolution have improved since then and Arnold has been at the leading edge, the academy said. Her tailored enzymes have become important for making medications and other valuable substances like renewable fuels.
“Her work is incredible,” Matt Hartings, an associate chemistry professor at American University, told The Associated Press.
Arnold, reached by telephone at an airport in Dallas, told the AP: “I predict that we will see many more Nobel chemistry prizes for women.”
She learned she had won when she was “unceremoniously woken up” at 4 a.m. in her Texas hotel room.
“The phone rang, and I was certain it was one of my kids or some emergency, but it wasn’t. First I was stunned, like somebody hit me over the head with something and then I started to wake up,” she said.
Arnold flew back to California for a news conference at Caltech, which she called a “jewel of an institution” where she was always “pushed to do her best and do things other people couldn’t do.”
In a short speech, she gave credit to her “inspiring” research team.
“The Nobel Prize goes to me but it’s really a team of brilliant people who love what they do,” she said.
Smith also credited others for the work that led to his breakthrough, telling a news conference at the University of Missouri that he was simply a part of a “huge web” of science.
“Very few research breakthroughs are novel. Virtually all of them build on what went on before. It’s happenstance. That was certainly the case with my work,” he told the AP.
Of the pre-dawn phone call from Stockholm informing him of his win, Smith said: “It’s a standard joke that someone with a Swedish accent calls and says ‘You won!’ But there was so much static on the line, I knew it wasn’t any of my friends.”
Winter said an encounter with a cancer patient early in his career made him realize the importance of his work.
The woman was receiving his then-experimental antibody treatment. Even though Winter didn’t know whether it would work, the patient was grateful for whatever extra time the treatment would give her to spend with her husband.
Winter says he realized afterward there was a “moral imperative” to ensure “what was produced could be used for public benefit.”
In other Nobel prizes this year, the medicine prize went Monday to James Allison of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and Tasuku Honjo of Kyoto University, who developed an approach for unleashing the immune system on cancers, helping doctors fight many advanced-stage cancer tumors.
Scientists from the United States, Canada and France shared the physics prize Tuesday for revolutionizing the use of lasers in research.
Arthur Ashkin became the oldest Nobel Prize laureate at 96, while Donna Strickland of the University of Waterloo in Canada became only the third woman to win a physics Nobel. Strickland had worked with the third winner, Frenchman Gerard Mourou of the Ecole Polytechnique and the University of Michigan.
The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is to be announced Friday and the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences will be revealed on Monday.
No Nobel literature prize will be awarded this year due to a sex abuse scandal at the Swedish Academy, which chooses the winner. The academy plans to announce both the 2018 and the 2019 winner next year — although the head of the Nobel Foundation has said the body must fix its tarnished reputation first.
The man at the center of the Swedish Academy scandal, Jean-Claude Arnault, was sentenced Monday to two years in prison for rape.
Heintz reported from Moscow, and Ritter and Chester from New York. Associated Press writers David Keyton in Stockholm, Danica Kirka in London, Linda Johnson in Trenton, N.J. and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles, contributed to this report.
Follow the AP’s coverage as the 2018 Nobel Prizes are awarded at https://apnews.com/tag/NobelPrizes .
Maine’s bald eagle population continues to grow
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine’s bald eagle population is continuing its surge back from the brink.
The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife says a survey shows an increase of 16 percent in nesting pairs since the 2013 survey. The state says the total number of nesting pairs was 733, and the eagle population is growing in all parts of the state.
The bald eagle population in Maine dwindled down to 21 nesting pairs in 1967 before conservation efforts helped bring the birds back.
Maine’s endangered and threatened species coordinator, Charlie Todd, says Down East Maine continues to have the highest density of breeding eagles anywhere from Nova Scotia to the Chesapeake Bay.
The state removed bald eagles from its endangered and threatened list in 2009, 31 years after they were listed.
Hocking College Honors First Natural Resources Alumni Hall of Fame Inductees
All five inductees are ODNR alumni
NELSONVILLE, OH – Three current employees and two retirees of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) were honored on Saturday in Nelsonville as the first inductees into Hocking College’s Natural Resources Alumni Hall of Fame.
“It is an honor but not a surprise that the first five inductees of Hocking College’s Natural Resources Alumni Hall of Fame have been exemplary ODNR employees,” said ODNR Director Jim Zehringer. “The educational background these individuals received from Hocking College helped start their successful careers focused on protecting Ohio’s natural resources.”
Prior to their induction into the newly created Natural Resources Alumni Hall of Fame, the inductees shared their experiences working in the natural resources field. The Hall of Fame recipients received certificates during the induction ceremony, which was held over Hocking College’s homecoming weekend.
“Hocking College’s nationally known Natural Resources programs have a rich history of providing quality hands-on education and producing graduates who are leaders in their fields,” said Dr. Betty Young, president of Hocking College. “We are proud of this tradition and pleased to honor those who have distinguished themselves in their careers and continue to be a testimony to the proud traditions and quality programs at Hocking College.”
The brand-new Hall of Fame inductees are:
Gary Obermiller, assistant director of ODNR and acting chief of the ODNR Division of Parks and Watercraft. He graduated from Hocking College in 1985, majoring in recreation and wildlife management and law enforcement. After working for 25 years with Ohio State Parks and Natural Areas and Preserves, Obermiller served as chief of the ODNR Office of Law Enforcement, north region administrator for Ohio State Parks, chief of the ODNR Division of Watercraft and then as chief of Ohio State Parks.
Mike Miller, chief of the ODNR Division of Wildlife. He graduated from Hocking College in 1987, majoring in recreation and wildlife management. Miller worked as a wildlife officer and field supervisor for the ODNR Division of Wildlife, and he also served as assistant chief and chief of the ODNR Division of Watercraft, as well as boating law administrator for the ODNR Division of Parks and Watercraft.
Pat Quackenbush, interpretive naturalist supervisor with the ODNR Division of Parks and Watercraft at Hocking Hills State Park. He graduated from Hocking College in 1985, majoring in wildlife management and environmental science. Quackenbush has worked for ODNR for more than 25 years, and he is also an adjunct instructor of ornithology and spring field biology at Hocking College.
Mike Taylor, retired ODNR administrator for law enforcement. He graduated from Hocking College in 1981, majoring in recreation and wildlife management. Taylor served ODNR as a wildlife officer and law enforcement administrator, as well as program administrator for undercover operations and then program administrator for statewide officer training. He worked as the chief of the ODNR Office of Law Enforcement until his retirement in 2010.
Ken Temple, retired ODNR administrator for law enforcement, current park manager of Lake Snowden and program manager for natural resources law at Hocking College School of Natural Resources. He graduated from Hocking College in 1974, majoring in recreation and wildlife management. Temple worked at ODNR as a park ranger, a park manager and regional manager before becoming the law enforcement administrator for Ohio State Parks. He eventually became the law enforcement administrator for ODNR until his retirement in 2002.
With more than 50 associate degree programs to choose from, Hocking College now serves more than 3,000 students. Set in the scenic town of Nelsonville, Ohio, the 2,300-acre institution is rich in history, nature, art and culture. Hocking College also has the Perry Campus located in New Lexington, Ohio, and the Logan Campus. In addition to the school’s on-campus residents, who attend Hocking from throughout the United States and around the world, local students commute from all over southeastern Ohio. As a not-for-profit corporation, Hocking College Foundation is committed to the best practices in governance, accountability, and transparency in all that we do.
ODNR ensures a balance between wise use and protection of our natural resources for the benefit of all. Visit the ODNR website at ohiodnr.gov.
The Conversation: Academic rigor, journalistic flair
2018 Nobel Prize for physics goes to tools made from light beams – a particle physicist explains
Updated October 3, 2018
Professor of Physics, Florida State University
Todd Adams receives funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Florida State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Our world is full of light, and we depend upon it to power life on our planet. So it is appropriate to honor three scientists who invented new ways of using light rays to explore our world.
The 2018 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland for developing tools made from light beams. Ashkin won half of the prize for his work on optical tweezers, which are beams of light that can actually manipulate tiny objects like cells or atoms, while Mourou and Strickland won the other half for creating technology that generates high-intensity, ultra-short laser pulses, which are used for eye surgeries, material sciences, studies of very fast processes and plasma physics, among others.
Alfred Nobel specified in his will that the physics prize should be awarded for “the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics,” so as a physicist I think he’d be pleased that this year’s award recognizes inventions made in the 1970s and 1980s that have led to practical applications that benefit mankind.
Donna Strickland is only the third woman to win the Nobel Prize in physics, out of 210 recipients, and the first since 1963. Marie Curie was the first, in 1903; she won another one in 1911 for chemistry. Maria Goeppert-Mayer was the second. Hopefully in the future the Nobel Prize committee can lower the average of 60 years between women laureates being named.
What are optical tweezers?
Using light to manipulate our world has become very important in science and medicine over the past several decades. This year’s physics Nobel recognizes the invention of tools that have facilitated advances in many fields. Optical tweezers use light to hold tiny objects in place or measure their movement. It may seem odd that light can actually hold something in place, but it has been well-known for more than a century that light can apply a force on physical objects through what is known as radiation pressure. In 1969, Arthur Ashkin used lasers to trap and accelerate micron sized objects such as tiny spheres and water droplets. This led to the invention of optical tweezers that use two or more focused laser beams aimed in opposite directions to attract a target particle or cell toward the center of the beams and hold it in place. Each time the particle moves away from the center, it encounters a force pushing it back toward the center.
The Optical Cell Rotator uses laser beams from optical fibers to hold living cells in place. The beams can be used to rotate the cells for detailed imaging.
Steven Chu, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and William D. Phillips won the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics for development of laser cooling traps, known as optical traps, that hold atoms within a confined space. Askhin and Chu worked together at Bell Laboratories in the 1980s laying the foundation for work on optical traps. While Chu continued work with neutral atoms, Ashkin pursued larger, biological targets. In 1987, Ashkin used optical tweezers to examine an individual bacterium – without harming the microbe. Now optical tweezers are routinely used in studies of molecules and cells.
Ashkin earned his bachelor’s degree from Columbia University and his Ph.D. from Cornell. He started at Bell Laboratories in 1952 and retired in 1992. But he assembled a home laboratory to continue his scientific investigations. He has been awarded more than 45 patents.
Why are fast laser pulses important?
Gerard Mourou and Donna Strickland worked together at the University of Rochester, where they developed the technique called chirped pulse amplification for laser light. Strickland was a graduate student and Mourou was her thesis advisor in the mid-1980s. At the time, progress on creating brighter lasers had slowed. Stronger lasers tended to damage themselves. Strickland and Mourou invented a way to create more intense light, but in short pulses.
You are probably most familiar with laser pointers or barcode scanners, which are just some of the ways we use lasers in everyday life. But these are relatively low-intensity lasers. Many scientific applications need much stronger ones.
To solve this problem, Mourou and Strickland used lasers with very short (ultrashort) pulses – quick bursts of light separated in time. With chirped pulse amplification, the pulses are stretched in time, making them longer and less intense, and then the pulses are amplified up to a million times. When these pulses are compressed again (through reversing the process used to stretch), the pulses are much more intense than can be created without the chirped pulse amplification technique. As an analogy, consider a thick rubber band. When the band is stretched, the rubber becomes thinner. When it is released, it returns to its original thickness. Now imagine that there is a way to make the stretched rubber band thicker. When the band is released, it will end up thicker than than the original band. This is essentially what happens with the laser pulse.
There are a variety of ways the stretching and amplification can be done, but nearly all of the highest-power lasers in the world use some variation of this technique. Since the invention of chirped pulse amplification, the maximum intensity of new lasers has continued a dramatic rise.
In my own field of particle physics, chirped pulse amplification-based lasers are used to accelerate beams of particles, possibly providing a path to greater acceleration in a shorter distance. This could lead to lower-cost, high-energy accelerators that can push the bounds of particle physics – enabling us to detect evermore elusive particles and gain a better understanding of the universe.
But not all particle accelerators are behemoths like the Large Hadron Collider, which has a circumference of 17 miles. There are some 30,000 industrial particle accelerators worldwide that are used closer to home for material preparation, cancer treatment and medical research. Mourou and Strickland’s work may be used to shrink the size of these accelerators making them smaller and cheaper.
Ultrafast, high-intensity lasers are also now being used in eye surgery. It can be used to treat the cornea (surface of the eye) to improve vision in some patients. The chirped pulse amplification invention is also used in attosecond science for studying ultrafast processes. An attosecond is one million trillionth of a second. By having lasers that produce pulses every attosecond, we can get a snapshots of extremely fast processes such as atoms losing an electron (ionizing) and then recapturing it.
The Nobel Prize-winning work was the basis for Strickland’s Ph.D. thesis from the University of Rochester. Dr. Strickland is now an associate professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Mourou became the founding director of the Center for Ultrafast Optical Science at the University of Michigan in 1990. He later became director of the Laboratorie d’Optique de Applique in France.
The 2018 Nobel Prize in physics shines a light on the pioneering work of these three scientists. Over the past three decades, their inventions have created avenues of science and medical treatments that were previously unattainable. It is certain that we will continue to benefit from their work for a long time.