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This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to three scientists for their development of ‘click’ chemistry, where small molecules are clicked together to form larger and more complex molecules.
Carolyn Bertozzi, Morten Meldal and K. Barry Sharpless collaborated to use the technique in living organisms in what they call “bioorthogonal chemistry.”
The award was presented by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and is worth 10 million Swedish kronor (£804,465, $915,072 USD).
Bertozzi and Sharpless are both from the US and affiliated with the Californian institutions Stanford University and Scripps Research respectively, while the Danish scientist Meldal works at the University of Copenhagen.
Hans Ellegren, Secretary General of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, announced the winners this morning at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.
Johan Åqvist, chairman of the Nobel Chemistry Committee, said: ‘This year’s Prize in Chemistry is about not over complicating things, but working with what is easy and simple.
‘Even by following a simple route, functional molecules can be built.’
Carolyn Bertozzi, Morten Meldal, and K. Barry Sharpless collaborated to use the technique in living organisms, in what they consider “bioorthogonal chemistry.”
The ‘click’ reactions that earned the scientists the Nobel Prize were called copper-catalyzed azide-alkyne cycloaddition reactions, which led to the formation of triazole molecules
NOBEL PRIZE FOR CHEMISTRY: PREVIOUS WINNERS
The 10 most recent winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry are:
2021: Benjamin List (Germany) and David WC MacMillan (USA) for their research on the origin of new molecules.
2020: Emmanuelle Charpentier (France) and Jennifer Doudna (USA) for the development of a genome editing method.
2019: John B. Goodenough (USA), M. Stanley Whittingham (USA) and Akira Yoshino (Japan) for lithium-ion battery development.
2018: Frances Arnold (USA), George P. Smith (USA), Greg Winter (England) for enzyme development.
2017: Jacques Dubochet (Switzerland), Joachim Frank (USA) and Richard Henderson (Scotland) for microscope technology.
2016: Jean-Pierre Sauvage (France), Fraser Stoddart (Scotland) and Ben Feringa (Netherlands) for supramolecular chemistry.
2015: Tomas Lindahl (Sweden), Paul Modrich (USA) and Aziz Sancar (Turkey) for mechanistic studies of DNA repair.
2014: Eric Betzig (USA), Stefan Hell (Germany) and William E. Moerner (USA) for the development in fluorescence microscopy.
2013: Michael Levitt (South Africa), Martin Karplus (USA) and Arieh Warshel (USA) for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems.
2012: Robert Lefkowitz (USA) and Brian Kobilka (USA) for studies of G protein-coupled receptors.
The scientists were specially honored ‘for the development of click chemistry and bioorthogonal chemistry’, according to the jury.
Sharpless started rolling the ball towards the ‘ingenious tool for building molecules’ around the year 2000.
The 81-year-old came up with the concept of click chemistry, where reactions take place quickly and unwanted by-products are avoided.
Shortly thereafter, Sharpless and Meldal performed copper-catalyzed azide-alkyncycloaddition reactions completely independently of each other.
This has since been widely used in drug development, DNA mapping, and making useful materials.
Next, Bertozzi began developing click reactions that work in living organisms to map special biomolecules – known as glycans – on the surface of cells.
These bioorthogonal reactions can take place without disrupting the normal chemistry of the cell and are now used worldwide to investigate cells and monitor biological processes.
Using bioorthogonal responses, researchers have improved the targeting of anticancer drugs, which are now being tested in clinical trials.
Sharpless also won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2001 for his method of directing reactions to one of two possible symmetric products.
Past winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry include Marie Curie, who also shared the Physics Prize with her husband. Her eldest daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie, won the chemistry prize just over two decades after her mother.
The 2021 Chemistry Prize was won by Germany’s Benjamin List and Scottish-born David MacMillan for their work creating new tools to build molecules in a more environmentally friendly way.
Their research helps in the development of new medicines, but also in other materials such as plastics, and the Nobel panel said it “already benefits humanity immensely.”
Chemistry is the third Nobel prize to be awarded this week, after three scientists from France, America and Austria were awarded the prize for physics yesterday.
They showed that small particles can maintain a connection with each other even when separated.
Sharpless also won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2001 for his method of directing reactions to one of two possible symmetric products
The scientists were specially honored ‘for the development of click chemistry and bioorthogonal chemistry’, according to the jury
Swedish geneticist Svante Paabo won the prize for Physiology or Medicine on Monday, which unlocked the secrets of Neanderthal DNA.
The prestigious awards for achievements in science, literature and peace were created in the will of Alfred Nobel, who made a fortune from his invention of dynamite and was a chemist himself.
They have been awarded since 1901 with some interruptions, mainly the two world wars, but made no pause for the COVID-19 pandemic.
The next Nobel Prize to be announced will be for Literature on Thursday, while the Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday and the Prize for Economics on October 10.
21 NOBEL PRIZE FOR CHEMISTRY LAURET
List was born in 1968 in Frankfurt, Germany, and obtained his PhD in 1997 from Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany.
He currently works as director of the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung, Mülheim an der Ruhr, in Germany.
List was working with catalytic antibodies when he started thinking about how enzymes actually work and how they catalyze chemical reactions without the use of metals — instead powered by amino acids in an enzyme.
The research that earned him part of the Nobel Prize asked ‘should amino acids be part of an enzyme to catalyze a chemical reaction? Or could a single amino acid, or other similarly simple molecules, do the same job?’
He built on research from the 1970s that showed that an amino acid called proline can be used as a catalyst, but has not yet been widely followed.
He found that in addition to being able to act as a catalyst, it did so right away by catalyzing an aldol reaction, where carbon atoms from two different molecules were bonded.
Compared to both metals and enzymes, proline is a chemist’s dream tool. It is a very simple, cheap and environmentally friendly molecule.
David WC MacMillan
MacMillan was born in 1968 in Bellshill, UK, and received his PhD in 1996 from the University of California, Irvine, USA.
He currently works as a professor at Princeton University.
MacMillan was working on improving asymmetric catalysis with metals when he made his remarkable discovery that led to the Nobel Prize.
This was an area that attracted a lot of attention from researchers, but he noted that the catalysts developed were rarely used in industry.
He started thinking about why, assuming that the sensitive metals were simply too difficult and expensive to use, so he left them behind.
The chemist created simple organic molecules that could provide temporary accommodation for electrons and act as a stable framework.
He selected several organic molecules with the right properties and then tested their ability to drive a reaction.
Some of the organic molecules proved to be excellent in asymmetric catalysis. Of two possible mirror images, one covered more than 90 percent of the product – similar to List’s work.