Nobel Prize for chemistry goes to trio for work on molecule attachment

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Nobel Prize For Chemistry Goes To Trio For Work On Molecule Attachment Nobel Prize For Chemistry Goes To Trio For Work On Molecule Attachment
The winners displayed on a big screen, © AP/Press Association Images
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By AP Reporters

The Nobel Prize for chemistry has been awarded to US scientists Carolyn R Bertozzi and K Barry Sharpless and Denmark’s Morten Meldal for developing a way of “snapping molecules together” that can be used to design medicines.

Their work, known as click chemistry and bio-orthogonal reactions, is used to make cancer drugs, map DNA and create materials that are tailored to a specific purpose.

Ms Bertozzi is based at Stanford University in California, Mr Meldal is at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and Mr Sharpless is affiliated with Scripps Research, California.


Mr Sharpless previously won a Nobel Prize in 2001. He is the fifth person to receive the award twice.

Hans Ellegren, secretary general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, announced the winners on Wednesday at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

“It’s all about snapping molecules together,” said Johan Aqvist, a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.


K Barry Sharpless, left, receives his first Nobel Prize for chemistry in 2001 (AP)

Mr Sharpless first proposed the idea for connecting molecules using chemical “buckles” around the turn of the millennium, said Mr Aqvist.

“The problem was to find good chemical buckles,” he said. “They have to react with each other easily and specifically.”

Mr Meldal, 68, and Mr Sharpless independently found the first such candidates that would easily snap together with each other, but not with other molecules, leading to applications in the manufacture of medicines and polymers.


Nobel Prize in Chemistry winner Morten Meldal (Scanpix via AP)

Ms Bertozzi, 55, “took click chemistry to a new level”, the Nobel panel said.

She found a way to make click chemistry work inside living organisms without disrupting them, establishing a new method known as bio-orthogonal reactions.

Such reactions are now used to explore cells, track biological processes and design drugs that can target diseases such as cancer more precisely.

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Ms Bertozzi explained that this amounts to “doing chemistry inside human patients to make sure that drugs go to the right place and stay away from the wrong place”.


Jonas Aqvist, chairman of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry (TT via AP)

Speaking by phone at a news conference following the announcement, Ms Bertozzi said she was “absolutely stunned” to receive the prize.

“I’m still not entirely positive that it’s real, but it’s getting realer by the minute,” she said.

Mr Meldal said he received a call from the Nobel panel about half an hour before the public announcement.

“They (…) told me not to tell anyone. So I sat inside my office and I shook my pants with fright,” he told The Associated Press. “This is a huge honour.”


Mr Meldal said he started out as an engineer. “But I wanted to understand the world, so I thought chemistry would give me the solutions.”

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Last year the prize was awarded to scientists Benjamin List and David WC MacMillan for finding an ingenious and environmentally cleaner way to build molecules that the Nobel panel said is “already benefiting humankind greatly”.

A week of Nobel Prize announcements kicked off on Monday with Swedish scientist Svante Paabo receiving the award in medicine for unlocking secrets of Neanderthal DNA that provided key insights into our immune system.

Three scientists jointly won the prize in physics on Tuesday.

Frenchman Alain Aspect, American John F Clauser and Austrian Anton Zeilinger had shown that tiny particles can retain a connection with each other even when separated, a phenomenon known as quantum entanglement, that can be used for specialised computing and to encrypt information.

The literature award will be announced on Thursday.

The 2022 Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday and the economics award will be bestowed on Monday October 10.

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