07 October 2009

Nobel Prize in Chemistry – Biophysics

Chemistry was left without a Nobel
Alexandra Borisova, Nikolay Podorvanyuk
Newspaper.RuIsraeli Ada Yonat, an employee of the Israeli Weizmann Institute of Sciences (born in 1939) became the fourth woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

The Committee noted her, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan (born in India in 1952), an employee of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology from Cambridge, and Thomas Steitz, an American professor at Yale University (born in 1940). Each of them will receive one-third of the prize "for studying the structure and functions of the ribosome."

Today, the "Nobel skeptics" can celebrate a victory – final and irrevocable. The new Nobel Prize winners in chemistry are 100% unrelated to chemistry. They are biologists engaged in protein crystallography, that is, we can say, partly physicists (Max von Laue, as well as father and son Bragg received Nobel Prizes in physics in 1914 and 1915 for developing methods of X–ray diffraction studies). Therefore, the experts' worst fears were justified: the Nobel Prize in Chemistry became a substitute for the non-existent prize in biology, as well as an addition to the existing, but inadequately small for such an extensive discipline prize in physics. All "true chemists" – from synthetics, creators of drugs and catalysts, to theorists – were left behind.

Unlike Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas Steitz, Ada Yonat was named among the candidates for the Nobel Prize. The media explained this by a simple additional factor: Yonat is the only contender –a woman, and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to men for more than 40 years.

In the entire history of the Nobel Prizes, only three women have been awarded this award in the field of chemistry. In 1911, Maria Sklodowska-Curie received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry "For outstanding achievements in the development of chemistry: the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element." She also, together with her husband Pierre Curie, received the Nobel Prize in Physics for 1903. In 1935, their daughter Irene Joliot-Curie, together with her husband Frederick, received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry "For the synthesis of new radioactive elements." And finally, in 1964, Ada Yonat's colleague, crystallographer Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, became the winner of the award "For the determination of structures of biologically active substances using X-rays".

The most famous achievement of Ada Yonat (Jerusalem, Israel), for which the Nobel Prize was actually awarded, is an X–ray diffraction study of the ribosome structure. Earlier, Yonat (in 2006) had already received the Israeli Wolf Prize in chemistry, quite prestigious in the world, for the structural study of the mechanism of ribosome participation in the formation of a peptide bond, as well as the study of the primary stages of the photosynthesis process.

Yonat is a pioneer of ribosome crystallography. About 20 years ago, despite some skepticism from the scientific community, she was able to fully determine the structure of both eukaryotic cell subunits (60S and 40S), as well as to study the mechanism of ribosome participation in the polymerization process of polypeptide chain formation and the stereochemistry of peptide formation. She also studied the effects of antibiotics (more than 20 types) on ribosomes. She identified the mechanisms of the body's resistance to the drug, as well as their synergy.

At the structural level, she was able to study the causes of the selective action of antibiotics. Her research has played a key role in the study of the clinical efficacy of drug therapy and opened the way to the creation of new drugs based on structural predictions. She was also the first to apply the technique of low-temperature protein crystallography, which significantly expanded the range of objects subject to this research method.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan (Cambridge, UK) is also difficult to call a chemist. The British molecular biologist of Indian origin became famous for the fact that in his laboratory the molecular structure of the ribosome was determined in combination with t-RNA and m-RNA ligands. In addition, in 2000, he determined the structure of the small subunit (30S) of bacterial cell ribosomes and its complexes with several antibiotics.

Thomas Steitz, professor of the famous Yale University (Connecticut, USA), became famous for his work on crystallography and molecular biology of proteins and nucleic acids involved in the processes of gene expression, replication and recombination. In 2000, Steitz and his colleagues used synchrotron radiation to determine the structure of the large subunit (50S) of the bacterial cell ribosome.

Thus, summing up the above, the merit of Yonat is in determining the structure of both ribosome subunits of the eukaryotic (nuclear) cell, and the achievement of Steitz and Ramakrishnan is in determining the structure of the large and small subunits of the prokaryotic (pre–nuclear) cell, respectively.

If on Monday the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology went to the favorites of all candidate lists and polls – Americans Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Grider and Jack Shostak "for discovering the mechanism of chromosome protection by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase", then the day before the Nobel Committee surprised everyone. The prize in physics went to outstanding scientists who have made a significant contribution to the development of modern technology and means of communication – Charles Kao "for innovative achievements in fiber–optic communication", as well as George Smith and Willard Boyle "for the invention of a semiconductor receiver of a charge-coupled CCD device". However, their names did not appear in the ratings of candidates for the 2009 Nobel Prize and the corresponding polls. There was no obvious candidate for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

The Thomson Reuters company, which regularly publishes lists of candidates, trying to evaluate a potential laureate based on the citation index and receiving other, slightly less prestigious awards than the Nobel Prize, also compiled its list this year. The main favorite of the company was the Swiss Michael Gretzel, who 17 years ago invented a solar battery based on sensitized paints, called the "Gretzel cell".

In addition to Michael Gretzel, the list of applicants included the names of four other scientists, in particular Professor Jacqueline Barton of the California Institute of Technology, who discovered charge transfer by a DNA molecule.

Last year, Thomson Reuters experts called the American William Morner, who developed a spectrometer capable of registering individual molecules, a favorite. This time, Swedish newspapers were included in the list of Morner's favorites, as was the Israeli researcher Ada Yonat, who as a result became one of the winners of the prize.

In 1956, Nikolai Nikolaevich Semenov (1896-1986) became the only Russian winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry "for research into the mechanism of chemical reactions." The prize in the amount of 200123 Swedish crowns (about 210 thousand euros in modern equivalent) Semenov equally shared with the Briton Cyril Norman Hinshelwood.

Thus, the laureates of half of the 2009 Nobel Prizes have already been announced. On Thursday, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature will be determined, on Friday in the Norwegian capital Oslo, the Nobel Peace Prize winner will be named, next Monday the fate of the prize in economics will be determined.

Portal "Eternal youth" http://vechnayamolodost.ru07.10.2009

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